Bart's Blog


Understanding Copyright

By Katie Earley, Content Manager on December 27, 2011

Even though SOPA and PIPA are out of the headlines, copyright laws continue to be a big story. When searching the web for images, music, and content to use for your business or personal project, it can be difficult to know what is legally available to you. Here are some basics to understanding how copyright works.

Copyright Symbols

From the moment you create something tangible it is copyrighted, even if you don’t register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Consider the magnitude of the work and the consequences if someone illegally reproduced it (Would it hurt your income or just be annoying?) when trying to decide if it’s worth the time to go through the registration process. Regardless of if your work is registered or not, you should always include the copyright information on it to remind others who your work belongs to and how they should treat it. Simply use the copyright symbol, year created and author: © 2011 RFX Technologies

Fair Use
Fair use is a loophole so you can use a limited portion of a copyrighted work. This is normally for the purpose of education, commentary, parody or news. If you were to write a book review, you could include a quote from the book, but obviously shouldn’t replicate a whole chapter.

Public Domain
Certain works that were never registered or have lapsed on their copyright registration are now considered public domain. This normally applies to older works like Shakespeare or the Mona Lisa. You can learn more about the specific time frames for public domain works here.

Creative Commons
One way to easily put some parameters on how you want your content used, and to find usable content, is through Creative Commons. As a creator, you don’t have to register anything; their website simply offers you advanced licensing options, like attribution or attribution-no derivatives, to associate with your work. People can share your work, but you define how. Most of the pictures I use for this blog are found through Flickr with a Creative Commons search.

The Internet has made a bit of a mess of the copyright situation, but when you think about it, the rules are pretty common sense. When in doubt, just ask the content creators for permission. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

image: Mike Seyfang

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