I was all set to post another one of those ‘boo hoo, woe is me’ posts but I realised that would make three in a row and I didn’t want to inflict that on you. I wondered about picking up an outstanding award but having a brain full of the flat and empties makes it difficult to extract seven interesting things about yourself….
And then I thought ‘I know! I’ll make myself useful and write some top copyright tips for bloggers!’ Looking after copyright is quite a big part of my day job and I thought I may as well spread some of my otherwise useless knowledge around. I’ll probably bore you all to death because that’s what I do when it comes to copyright.
By the way, I only cover UK/EU copyright – having said that, if you live elsewhere the broad principles will be the same so this might still give you a useful starting point.
The really boring bit I have to say
This is just some friendly advice about copyright written for my fellow bloggers: it isn’t legal advice. Please don’t act in reliance of it and if you do, be aware that – to the full extent permitted by law – I accept no liability in respect of the information provided. If you need legal advice you should contact a solicitor*.
I should say that my job is what is referred to in the trade as para legal** and I therefore have no professional indemnity insurance. Oh, and I’m skint. I mention this so that you know it really isn’t worth suing me even if you think you’ve spotted a loop hole.
The boring bit about copyright in general
In short copyright provides legal protection for the products of human skill, creativity and intelligence. Ideas alone do not enjoy copyright protection; in the UK it is the original expression of an idea or information that is protected.
Copyright protects the following types of work:
- Literary works (this includes the written word as well as the spoken word)
- Dramatic works (a work capable of being performed before an audience such as a film script)
- Musical works
- Sound recordings
- Artistic works
Provided that the work is:
- Original – in other words, not copied. There must also have been some skill, labour or judgement used in the creation of the work
- Fixed – recorded in a permanent, material form
- Created by a qualifying person – a UK national or another person covered by international treaty
Copyright protection applies automatically upon creation: there is no need to register or claim copyright. The © is not a legal requirement but its use is customary in published works.
If you own copyright you have two sets of rights:
1. Economic rights give copyright owners the exclusive right to exploit their work for financial gain by:
- Making copies of the work
- Issuing (and lending) copies of the work to the public
- Publishing the work
- Adapting the work
2. Moral rights relate to the intellectual integrity of the work and help to ensure that:
- The author or creator is recognised as such
- An author or creator does not have works falsely attributed to them
- A work is not subjected to derogatory treatment
You can assign and transfer (including by gift or by sale) economic rights but moral rights are non-transferrable.
That there is copyright in a little nutshell for you!
The boring bit about your copyright
How to get copyright protection for you blog
You don’t need to do a thing! Copyright is automatic, which means as soon as you write, draw or record something the copyright subsisting*** in that work is yours. That’s the law. If you have a blog you own copyright. Congratulations!
Now you own copyright you get to decide what you want to do with it although the law does provide some scope for other people to use your work if their use of your work is considered to be ‘fair’. This means other people may copy insubstantial parts of your work for the purposes of:
- Non commercial private study or research
- Criticism or review of the work
- Reporting current affairs
Insubstantial is generally understood to be five percent of an entire work – or five percent of your blog.
Also you can’t stop someone from copying any portion of your work if they are doing so to set or answer exam questions. You never know eh? An exam question on ‘how do you eat an elephant?’! You heard it here first!
Protecting your copyright
There a number of rather dubious organisations out there claiming that they can help you protect your copyright. Take it from me – they can’t. They’ll take your money and run.
For the most part, you can probably take care of your rights without paying anybody. Make it clear that you own copyright somewhere on your blog and ask people to contact you if they are unsure. If you spot someone taking the Michael write to them and ask if they wouldn’t mind stopping taking the Michael!
You need to keep it in perspective but if you think you’ve got a War and Peace on your hands it might be worth instructing a reputable solicitor (you can find one of those here)
How to make your readers aware of copyright
Sometimes people forget about copyright when it comes to the Internet – what with it being free and lawless and all – so it’s worth including the © symbol if you are worried about it. It might also be worth considering licensing your work via Creative Commons.
Licensing your blog
Creative Commons licensing is a good way to make sure that your readers are absolutely clear where you stand on the copyright subsisting in your blog. You can choose various options with three broad themes:
- Lock down – no use, no adaptation, no nothing
- Middle ground – use and adaptation with acknowledgement provided
- the same terms are imposed on the copy/adaptation
- You are accredited as the author
- The copy/adaptation does not result in financial gain
- Free for all – As the middle ground but allowing financial gain
When you’re choosing which licence to go with you need to maintain perspective. It’s tempting to go for the full lock down, but bear in mind there is likely to be a lot of traffic/publicity if you allow others to use your work if accredited. As with most things I think the middle ground is the best ground here!
Publishing material from your blog
Here’s a word of caution for you. If you are hoping to publish material from your blog with a commercial publisher, or entering it in to a competition you need to think long and hard about whether you want to include it on your blog at all.
Publishers and competition organisers often stipulate that submitted work has not been published elsewhere before and putting something on your blog counts as ‘published’.
The bit about other people’s copyright
If you want other people to respect your copyright a good place to start is by making sure you respect theirs. It’s that universal rule isn’t it? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…..
If you write a blog, I’m guessing you consider yourself to be a writer and will therefore know in your heart that it’s bad form to pinch another writers writing.
It’s best to avoid copying and pasting large chunks of websites, or other blogs into your posts – even if you give full accreditation to the source. From a legal viewpoint it’s far safer to include a link to the content that you want to highlight. That way, nobody is in any doubt as to where the content came from and you can avoid receiving nasty ‘take down and desist’ notices which will probably stress you out.
If you really have to repeat another person’s work verbatim you need to think about how risky it really is. For example, JD Salinger is known to protect his work very closely so it’s probably not a risk worth taking. Whatever you decide it is absolutely essential that you indicate the source of the work you are using.
Again, it’s best to avoid including images unless you can be sure that the content is copyright free, or licensed under a creative commons licence that allows re-use. Using stock images is the safest way to achieve this.
Once again you have a risk assessment on your hands if you want to use a ‘random picture you found on the interweb’ – only you can decide. An acknowledgement won’t get you off the hook if it comes to it, but it won’t do any harm.
Here’s my take on it. If you can find it on YouTube, it’s okay to include an embedded link. If it all goes wrong it’ll be YouTube that gets in trouble and all that will happen to you is that your link will stop working. But that’s just my take.
I wouldn’t advise using any content you got via a filesharing service on your blog (just using them is a bit dodgy by the way, you know that?) because that’s a sure fire way to get in trouble.
By the way, if you want to be super careful don’t include any music on your blog.
My take on films (and television for that matter) is exactly the same as my take on music.
What if you get it wrong?
You’re on your own – I deny all knowledge!!
On a more serious note, if you do get it wrong you need to keep calm. If you receive a cease and desist notice about content on your blog just TAKE IT DOWN. Don’t argue or query it, just take it down. 9 times out of ten a copyright owner will be content with that. If they aren’t, you’re going to need a reputable solicitor.
The thing about copyright infringement is much the same as the thing about your own copyright. It’s all about perspective.
On the one hand copyright is a civil matter in the UK – provided you’re not involved with wholesale piracy (which is why file sharing content is a fairly rubbish idea by the way) the outcome of any legal cases will come down to the actual damage suffered by the copyright owner as offset by your financial worth. There’s not a lot of point in suing a skint person. It’s the golden rule of being a solicitor!
If, on the other hand, your actions are deemed to be piracy (or in any other way criminal in scope) you could be looking at a hefty fine and even a jail term. Piracy and crime is bad.
The only other point of note is that you need to be especially careful with other people’s copyright if your blog is in anyway commercial. It doesn’t matter whether you make any money or not – if you have adverts or any other form of revenue generation on your site the damages awarded against you would be inflated by this fact whether you could pay or not and your actions would be far more likely to be viewed as criminal.
That’s my two penneth worth. Hope it wasn’t as boring as all that!
Lots of love, WeeGee xx
*And pay a pretty penny for it
** The only difference between a para legal and a prper legal is the pay. But don’t feel sorry for the para legals because it’s the legals that get the blame when it all hits the fan
***Copyright always subsists rather that exists because it’s real but not tangible