Copyright Information

Every Web site and Blog owner should be aware of copyright issues.

“Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit”

On one hand, if you’re a proud author and have invested a lot of time and effort to write and assemble the material for an excellent Web site, of course you are incensed when the lazy REALTOR┬« in the office next door or across the country copies your hard work without your permission and publishes it as his/her own.

On the other hand, if you’re staring at a blank page in your word processor, and you have a serious shortage of time and inspiration, why not snag something you’ve seen that you like, save the photos from your browser, change a word of text here and there, and make it yours? After all, material on the Web is in the public domain, isn’t it? If you can link to it, you can copy it, right?

The Answer Is A Resounding NO

Unless the material clearly states “Public Domain” almost everything on the Web is covered by copyright law. This includes text, photographs, artwork, music, html coding, javascripts. Everything! Even if a page doesn’t contain a specific copyright notice clearly displayed, the material is still legally protected.

People who would never consider stealing money or jewelry think nothing of appropriating text, pictures, layouts, ideas. Using someone else’s work without permission is in fact THEFT. You can get in big trouble for stealing!

We actually encountered a situation recently where a prospective customer asked us to copy an entire Web site – fonts, colors, layout, illustrations – change the logos, names, places, and put it up as their own. Of course we wouldn’t do that. We were shocked that these otherwise ‘honest’ citizens thought nothing of stealing.

Derivative Work

Copyright law also covers derivative work. In an excellent article, “What Is Copyright Protection?”, the author, R. Delgado-Martinez states the issue succinctly, “What if I take someone else’s writings, text, HTML or graphic image and change it around to suit my needs? I own the “new” version, right? If you did any of that with the original owner’s permission, and according to his/her terms and conditions than (sic) you own the “new” version. If not you may be committing copyright infringement and/or plagiarism.”

In short, changing someone else’s work without permission does not entitle you to use it as your own.

The bottom line is: if you steal someone else’s work, you are likely to eventually get caught. There are methods, for example, of invisible watermarking of digitized photographs. The lay-person has no idea how to detect this. But a watermark can easily be revealed by special software. It’s a dead-giveaway that the photo belongs to someone else.

If You Still Don’t “Get It”…

We ran across the following illustration many years ago on the Web when first researching copyright infringement.

Suppose you have a section on your Web site about professional sports in your city. You take your camera to an NFL game to make photos for posting at your site.

When teams, players, or the stadium is identifiable, in order to legally use your private photos at your commercial Web site, you need to get the permission of the NFL, the permission of the stadium owner, the permission of the team owners, and the permission of any player whose face or number shows in the photos.

Can You Protect Your Original Work In Court?

Suppose someone copies your work at their Web site and then refuses to remove the offending material per your request to do so. You must litigate to force compliance. Does your material have to be legally copyrighted through the US Copyright Office in order for you to win in court?

Obviously, going through the copyright process every time you change your site is an impossible task. A simple protective measure you might want to employ, however, is to print the material (or put it on floppy disk), and mail it to yourself in an envelope that shows a clear postmark.. Don’t use a postage meter, and don’t open the envelope when you receive it. That way, you will at least have some officially dated “proof” that you originated the material. You probably wouldn’t want to get into a legal battle with a huge, deep-pockets company like Microsoft relying on such ‘proof’, but it’s certainly better than nothing for situations where you believe an individual appropriated your work.

Disclaimer

We are not attorneys and are not offering legal advice in this article. We are simply trying to lay the groundwork for you to educate yourself in what’s permissible and what’s not regarding copyright law. Always consult your attorney for legal advice.

Links For In-Depth Information

The following links provide in-depth information on copyright law and infringement as well as penalties and remedies.

  • What Is Copyright Protection?
    By R. Delgado-Martinez.
    This is a good primer written in understandable language. It explains what’s covered by copyright.
  • Duration of Copyright
    Please remember, with music even if the composition was written long before copyright law, the performance of the piece is most likely copyrighted by the musicians.