Copyright Issues for Bloggers

Last week’s post was about the important role that blogs can play in an agency’s marketing plan.  If you decide to give blogging a try, there are some things you need to know about what can be done with content that was not created by you, both visual and text.  These things all have to do with the law of copyright, which essentially protects everything that a person creates from use by others without the creator’s permission, with some exceptions.

In a post I wrote over two years ago, I explained how the copyright law applied to the use of photographs on an agency’s website . The same rules apply to the use of photographs or any other visual object created by someone else in a blog post or other writing.  Just because something is on the internet does not mean that anyone is free to use it.  This is one of the top ten misconceptions about copyright law recently published by the Copyright Clearance Center, which acts as an agent for the holders of the copyrights for various publications.

Another related common misconception about copyright law is that the existence of buttons or other tools that permit the sharing of a blog post or other article found on the internet means anyone can use the content of the post or article for whatever purpose they want.  Not true, if those buttons or other tools were included in the post or article by the author.  Their inclusion by the author is a way to publicize the work and does not signify permission to use the content of the work for other purposes.

In addition, merely citing the source of content created by another does not give a blogger or anyone else the right to copy that content and include it in their work, except to the extent that doing so can be considered “fair use” of the content.  What qualifies as “fair use” is a complicated and fact specific question, but to be safe you should not use anything more that brief quotations from such content without obtaining the permission of its creator.  If you try to get such permission and receive no response, that does not mean you are free to use the content.  Under the U.S. copyright law, permission must be affirmatively granted, it cannot be presumed.

Having a paid subscription to a print or online journal or other publication does not necessarily mean that you are free to distribute the content provided to your customers or other third parties.  Your right to do so will be governed by the terms of the subscription contract, which should be carefully reviewed before redistributing the content provided to others.  Posting the content on your agency’s intranet to which only the agency’s employees have access is not necessarily a permitted use in this situation and would not be a permitted use for any other content for which a subscription was not paid.

My earlier post on the use of photographs goes into some detail on the financial penalties that can be levied for a violation of the copyright law.  They can be significant, so activity that may violate that law should be avoided.