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How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

Date: 27 Oct 2017

spiralmedia-copyright-infringement

Photo by Pixabay

Copyright infringement is becoming more and more important as the internet, and the sharing of content, becomes more prevalent.

Breaching copyright laws can land you with a hefty fine if you’re not careful, and it’s not as easy as you think to stay on the straight and narrow.

Understanding how copyright works and what you can do to avoid copyright infringement is the first step.

Examples of copyright infringement include:

  • Downloading movies, TV shows or music without paying
  • Recording films at the cinema
  • Using photographs without permission
  • Copying software code without allocating credit to the creator
  • Creating YouTube videos with music without the owner’s permission
  • Copying text content without permission
  • Copying an artist’s original work without permission

Can I use copyrighted images?

This is the most common breach of online copyright rules that businesses get caught out on.

Just because an image is listed as free to use, doesn’t mean that it is.

Google Images and Flickr often show images with the wrong licencing attributed, so you may end up using copyrighted images by mistake.

The only way to ensure you use copyright safe imagery is to purchase it from a reputable image website, such as Shutterstock.

Alternatively, you can use a site like Pixabay which only displays royalty and attribution-free images, although you will find your choices are more limited.

Can copyright can protect my ideas?

Copyright applies to tangible work and so cannot be applied to an idea.

For certain types of work, you can apply for a patent to protect your idea until it becomes a reality, but until then, your idea itself cannot be copyrighted.

While copyright protects actual documented work; content, images, music, etc…, it does not protect you from someone creating something based off of your idea.

Can copyright a name or title?

Copyright does not apply to things like names and titles as these may be duplicated coincidentally, or may be used in unrelated instances and are coincidental.

In terms of copyright, two different pieces of work can have the same title, as long as the content of those works are not copied, then it is not infringement.

However, you can get protection for a name if it is a trademark, or if it could be proved that that use of the title misleads or confuses the public.

A recent case against Poundland from the makers of Toberlone illustrates this, as it was successfully argued that the similar packaging and look of the Poundland chocolate bar could potentially mislead customers.

Is the Internet ‘public domain’?

Just because something is available on the web doesn’t mean that it is free to use.

The public domain specifically refers to work where the copyright has expired and has not been reissued (typically this is due to the original creator’s death).

It may also apply to works that have been attributed as ‘free to use’ by the original creator.

You should also keep in mind that different countries will have different ‘free to use’ laws you must abide by.

Does content have to have a copyright notice displayed?

No, a piece of content doesn’t have to display a copyright notice to make it protected.

If you want to make it crystal clear that your work is protected, then adding a copyright notice is a good idea.

However, if you copy someone’s work and then claim it was fair game due to a lack of copyright notice, you are likely to lose your case.

Owners will only have to provide their copyright notice afterwards to make a claim.

Changing someone else’s work

Taking an original piece of content and then changing it is not a foolproof way to avoid copyright infringement.

Even if you adapt someone else’s work, it still belongs to them, and if they can successfully prove you copied their work, they can claim copyright infringement.

They will also be entitled to reclaim any money you made from selling their work.

There is a fine line between copying and inspiration, so always be aware of how your work may compare to your ‘inspiration’.

Kylie Jenner came under fire last year after images uploaded to her Instagram were claimed to be copies of another user’s work.

spiral-media-copyright-instagram-image

If the parallels between the two are clear, you are at risk of infringement.

Can I copy work if I don’t make any money out of it?

The only time this applies is if your creation falls under the rules of Fair Dealing (also known as Fair Use).

Fair Dealing is a tricky area to navigate and the lines between fair use and copyright can get blurred at times.

Examples of Fair Dealing include:

  • A family holiday video that films a trademarked piece of work by mistake
  • A photograph that includes a shot of a household product
  • News reporting
  • A review of a product or service
  • For the purposes of research or study
  • Parody or satirical works

Bear in mind that these examples are not exclusive, and there may be instances where one of the above falls under copyright infringement, based on the individual circumstances.

Otherwise, any copying of original work will fall under copyright infringement and you could be landed with a fine.

Conclusion

It is easy to avoid copyright infringement if you remember the guidelines above before using any content for your blog or website.

Just keep in mind to always check for attribution and licences on any works you wish to use and, if in doubt, don’t use it at all.