I’m not a lawyer. That alone should give you pause to seek your own legal counsel if you need help with copyright law. Further, my basic understanding of how copyright works (in a limited capacity) only applies to the United States, where I live. If you’re in a different country, then I don’t have anything to offer you. Talk to a lawyer (or the equivalent) in your own country.
Now that my introduction/disclaimer is over, let’s dig in.
The Copyright Holder Isn’t Always The Writer
This should be cleared up. When I’m talking about a “copyright holder” I don’t always mean the writer. Why? I’ll give you an example. If I write a blog post for a client, that client owns the copyright to that blog post as soon as it’s properly paid for. I can no longer claim it as my own. This is how my business is set up. Other writers might have different policies.
This is a very important distinction because if you want to use someone’s work on your own website, look for the person who owns the copyright. For example, if you find an article you like from a newspaper, it’s the newspaper that owns the copyright to that article, not the journalist who wrote the article.
5 Important Copyright Tips To Remember
1. You must get the copyright holders permission to use their work. There are no exceptions to this. If you didn’t get permission, whether it’s a quick email or you paid for a license, then you are violating the law and the copyright holder can take action against you.
2. Linking to the original source and giving credit will not protect you. Again, unless you have permission, you can link to the original blog post (for example) all you want, but you’re still breaking the law. I see this logic so many times: as long as I link to the original source then the author gets credit. Good enough. Wrong!
3. Even quoting a blog post can lead to problems. Proceed with caution. Generally, this isn’t an issue but someone can go after you simply for quoting their work if they feel it’s stealing, regardless if you link back to them or not. This is a good case for talking to a lawyer.
4. “Fair use” is not as simple as it seems. I see people throw this term around a lot. It’s a complicated issue and there are a lot of court rulings that affect what is considered “fair use” and what is not. I’m not even going to try to explain this one. Again, talk to a lawyer.
5. A simple email can save you a lot of trouble. If you want to use someone’s work on your own website, send them an email and ask. The worse that will happen is they’ll say no. If this happens, thank them for their time and move on. If they say yes, negotiate the terms and get everything in writing.
Personally, I’ll come down hard on someone blatantly copying my writing to use on their own website. At the very least, the violator will receive a DMCA takedown notice. But if a person contacts me expressing interest in a post then I’ll probably be happy to work something out. I’m a reasonable guy. Just be prepared to negotiate.
Consequences Of Copyright Infringement
The most severe consequence of stealing someone’s work is that they’ll drag you into court. It happens. More likely, however, is you’ll receive a DMCA takedown notice via your ISP. If you comply with the notice and remove the material, then there’s a good chance you won’t have any further trouble. Some copyright holders might demand payment for use of their material. You also risk losing your website for not complying with copyright laws.
Just Don’t Steal
Not stealing other people’s work is the best way to avoid trouble. Seriously. If you need content for your website you can either write it yourself or have someone write it for you (hint hint).
Talk To A Lawyer
Notice how many times I highlighted the phrase “talk to a lawyer.” Yeah, it’s because getting accurate legal advice on copyright issues is that important. Everything I’ve written in this post is mostly common sense and barely scratching the surface of copyright law. You don’t need to have a lawyer tell you that stealing is wrong.