Copy Right, Copy Left, Fair Use – Which Way To Go? (part 2)

published on February 12, 2014 | tagged in:

In the last few years, the internet has seen the explosion of consumer provided content not only through social networking and microblogging sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram, but even through self-hosted personal and professional websites.

These consumer driven websites are constantly flooded with images, posts, memes, tweets, parodies, audio, videos, and other multimedia content lifted from popular brands, movies, music, current events, and other newsworthy topics that all of a sudden start trending.

But how far can you go with borrowed content? Are there any real consequences to using content pulled from Google search without explicit permission from the original author even if attribution is provided? In a previous article, we shared basic and foundational information about intellectual property and copyright issues. Let’s continue.

Copyright is, literally, the “right to copy.” Copyright is comprised of a bundle of rights, including reproducing (e.g., photocopying, photographing, scanning into a computer), performing in public (e.g., at a concert), publishing in print (e.g., in a book) or in an electronic format (e.g., on the internet), publicly displaying, adapting (e.g., a book into a movie script), translating, publicly communicating, and broadcasting. It is only the owner of the copyright who may do these things or authorize others to do so.

In at least 166 countries around the world, including Canada and the U.S., copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of a work (i.e., once the work is in some sort of tangible form): this means that no registration or deposit with a government copyright office is required in order to have copyright protection.


But what about all the screenshots you posted about the movies you reviewed? Or the images of the items you purchased on Amazon? Or the video excerpts, the dialogue you memed, portions of a script or a piece of literature you quoted, research findings from a white paper you bought, notes from a webinar or an online course you took, the parodied gifs of famous and not so famous celebrities? All is not lost – yet. There is such a thing as Fair Use and Copy Left.

Copy Left – What you need to know

Copyleft (a play on the word copyright) can be characterized as a copyright licensing scheme in which an author surrenders some, but not all rights under copyright law. Instead of allowing a work to fall completely into the public domain (where no ownership of copyright is claimed), copyleft allows an author to impose some restrictions on those who want to engage in activities that would more usually be reserved by the copyright holder. Under copyleft, derived works may be produced provided they are released under the compatible copyleft scheme.

The underlying principle is that one benefits freely from the work of others but any modifications one makes must be released under compatible terms.
source: Wikipedia

Under copyleft, the author claims a copyright on the work and makes a statement in the form of a license that other people have the right to use, modify, and share the work so long as their modified versions are put under that same license and that anyone receiving a copy of the work — whether modified or not — must also be given these same rights. If someone does not follow the the terms set by the copyright holder it becomes copyright infringement, which is subject to the full penalties of the legal system. – Jason Self

Fair Use

Fair use, on the other hand, is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

source: Rich Stim, Stanford University

Unfortunately, many disputes have arisen over the interpretation and application of fair use. And if the copyright owner disagrees with how you have used his or her work, you can be in for a legal battle.

If you are wondering how to tell whether you are within the limits of what can be considered as “fair use”, below are some of the factors found in Section 107 of the Copyright Law you need to consider:

  • the purpose and character of your use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Many Internet users, especially new, and even old, bloggers run the risk of being sued for copyright infringement. Copyright owners are more vigilant today and have taken to reporting violations of their copyright to the search engines, hence, the appearance of DMCA violation notifications on SERP pages.

Ignorance of the law does not exempt one from the consequences. Both copyright owners and information consumers need to be informed. For more details about the governing rules of Copyright, Copy Left, and Fair Use, check out the full text of the Copyright Law of the United States.

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