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Blog TipsWomen in Business

Copyright and Your Blog

By Feb 16, 2011July 3rd, 201477 Comments

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We’re kicking off a new series today in our Women on the Move channel today entitled, Ask the Expert.  It’s a way for us to regularly feature the mad skills and know-how from the women in our dynamic community.  For our first installment, Kat Sabine is joining us to address the topic of copyright and what it means to you and your blog.  Before we dive in, let’s get to know Kat…

copyright lawKat Sabine (mamakats) has extensive activism and volunteer experience in issue organizing, which has afforded her the ability to participate in member recruitment, project supervising, political action and lobbying, conflict resolution, adult education and training, as well as public relations and communications.  This led her to also earn a BA in English, with honors, and a Masters in Women’s Studies.  She is a mother of two boys, 9 years apart (whoops!): her older son has Asperger Syndrome on the Autism Spectrum; while her younger son is labeled as Exceptionally Gifted.  When not chasing her boys, she maintains community connection through volunteering and writing on the Bitch in the house blog and various projects.  And if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she also works on lots of home improvement projects for her 1950’s bungalow-style home located in the Southwestern United States.

copyright use

When I was in graduate school, I earned a reputation for spotting plagiarism amongst undergraduate papers.  Many of the professors I worked with were impressed with my uncanny knack for spotting a lifted phrase and then tracking its source back to the original publication date and author.  But then I knew what I was looking for.  Often a plagiarized sentence or paragraph contains some turn of phrase or language not present in the rest of the written piece.  That was my secret trick for uncovering an English student’s cheating efforts.  And to be honest, in every class there is always some student who either misunderstood the tenets of plagiarism or just plain ol’ tried to pull one over on overworked teaching  assistants and professors.  Out in the blogosphere, it’s a much different game to catch a thief.  And once you do catch someone stealing your work, what can you really do about it?

Welcome to copyright protection!

 

As it turns out, your work is protected under U.S. copyright law “the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device”  (U.S. Copyright Office, Jul, 2006).  Even if your work is not officially registered with any governmentally recognized entity, your words belong to you and cannot be used for the gain of anyone else.  That’s a pretty powerful tool.  However, registration of your work is strongly recommended if you would like the fact of your copyright on public record.  Because timelines of blogposts are not actually fixed in time, it is difficult to prove that your work actually originated with you.  Unfortunately, just like my former students, there are lots of people out there who either misunderstand their obligations to crediting you with your creative efforts or who are unscrupulous.

Therefore, at its base, a copyright is a legal notice of protection to guard your creative efforts from someone else using it.  The components that make up copyright protection prevent others from copying, distributing, or even make derivative works (like turning a book into a movie) based on your projects.  However, there are some instances whereby your works might not be protected.  These components of copyright are called “fair use” and allow others to make comments, parody, or utilize for limited educational purposes your creative works.  There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes “fair use” and frankly even the American legal system is fraught with questions on what is allowable.  A key rule to follow in thinking about fair use is to limit the amount of work you borrow from someone else to a “small portion” or to less than 10% of the entire project.  Although it is important to keep in mind that the rule is not a legal standard so you must rely on your best judgment.

Like many blogs, one’s content probably has little or no real commercial value to the owner/author.  But you’d be surprised at the value your ideas may hold for someone else.  Protecting your work maybe the best way to control what happens to it once it is published on the Internet.

The best way to protect your work is to invest a little space on your blog for a copyright notice.  Though the notice will not necessarily prevent your work from being stolen, it will educate and likely deter dishonest use.  If you want to sue someone to protect your words – or worse, if someone sues you to protect their theft of your words – you’ll need to be able to prove that you really wrote and own what you say you do.  This is where copyright gets tricky.  How do you prove that you said what you said, that you said it before someone else, and that your blog posts actually belong to you?

The easiest way to protect yourself is to register your work.  Unfortunately, the US Copyright Office has not yet come up with a tech-savvy manner to protect an ever-evolving work like your blog.  But all is not lost!  Thankfully, there are organizations out there that are into thinking about and solving this dilemma.  One such organization is Creative Commons.org.  Creative Commons is a service that allows you to make your own distribution license – for free.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Unlike the US Copyright Office which charges at least $35.00 to register your blog posts, Creative Commons will register your entire blog for without any cost to you.

To be clear, I have no affiliation with Creative Commons, except that I utilize their services for my own blog. I do have a deep respect for their efforts to help us all protect our own creative interests while researching and negotiating the often complicated relationship between each other in the blogosphere. Also, I am not a lawyer. This article is intended to provide education around the terminology and issue of copyright. Should you need more specific legal advice, please consult a copyright/trademark attorney.

Discussion:

Do you feel like you may have unwittingly broken copyright law on your blog?  Do you think someone may have stolen your post or an image you created?  Do you have more questions about how to protect your creative work?

Bibliography:

  • U.S. Copyright Office Washington, DC 20559-6000. 2006. (downloaded February 9, 2011)
  • Lost Art Of Blogging. Designed by Paul Stamatiou and customized by Tibi Puiu. 2007-2008. (downloaded February 9, 2011)
  • Drawing That Explains Copyright Law.  Eric J. Heels.  2007. (downloaded February 9, 2011)
  • http://creativecommons.org/ San Francisco, CA 94105 USA. (downloaded February 9, 2011)

If you enjoyed this post, then be sure to check out Kat’s next installment on SITS where she covers Blogging With Integrity and how the latest FTC guidelines apply to you and your blog.

About Francesca

Francesca has an extensive background in content marketing, public relations, and social outreach. She oversees all Operations at Sway Group, including our robust metrics capabilities. Prior to joining the online world, Francesca oversaw viticulture and oenology at various wineries in both California and Italy, and managed regulatory affairs and facility approvals at the biotech company, Genentech. Francesca has been featured on CBS Sacramento and Food Blogger Pro’s podcast. She has also hosted an AMA webinar and spoken at Social Media World.

77 Comments

  • Lady Jennie says:

    Thank you so very much for this valuable information!

  • Kim says:

    Thanks so much for this! Working on it now!

  • christine says:

    This is great information! Thanks a bunch! 🙂

  • This is great information. I am a Canadian blogger. Is there a site that I could use to protect my blog or would I use this U.S. site?

  • valuable insight from SITS as always 🙂 Hello from Hyderabad! I’m back in India and soso happy!!

  • Tammy says:

    Great information…I am going to look into the Creative Commons.org. Thank you for the info.

  • I’ve been guilty of neglecting to give proper credit to some images I’ve posted, but it’s only been times when it was very clear that it wasn’t MY image in the first place. Guess that doesn’t make it right. I need to be more careful.

    • mamakats says:

      I’m guilty of this too. And it is so easy to do in the blogosphere, right?! But this is an up-and-coming area of interest in the legal community so there is a lot of interest in testing cases and seeing what the limits of the law are as far as the internet and creative content is concerned.

  • Tracie says:

    This is one of those things that I tell myself I am going to do, and then get distracted and forget.

    I’m wondering what the difference is between Creative Commons and My Free Copyright (both of which I have seen on a lot of blogs)?

  • Courtney D. says:

    Thanks for all of the great info! I copyrighted my blog not too long ago, and while you’re right, you can’t copyright ideas, it does make me feel a little more secure. And I’ve always tried to give proper credit and link back when I’ve shared someone else’s idea on my blog or even if someone else’s idea inspired my project. I think it’s beneficial to all of us in the blogging community to give credit where credit is due. No one likes the person who rips off everyone else’s ideas. It’s just not nice.

  • Stefanie says:

    Thanks for some wonderful advice! We will definitely be checking out registering our site. One question – any idea on how to handle / manage copyright for a blog community where we host a number of independent authors? Would love any input! Thanks 🙂

    • mamakats says:

      You might want to consider talking to an attorney about what kind of waivers you have your contributers sign.

      • Stefanie says:

        Thanks… I hadn’t really thought of that…especially since our policy is very simply that everyone owns the copyright on the posts they created (it’s in our “terms” section). I think I’ll talk to our attorney and see if we need to go beyond that and have folks sign waivers. Thanks for the input!

  • So important! And although I have registered and post a copyright thing-y on my blog – I never use photos (so silly) for fear of breaking some sort of copyright law. Must educate myself more on their use and what’s legal. Thanks!

  • Alexandria says:

    just last week i came across a message board that had copied & pasted a post i had just written and when i asked that they remove it they gave me hell for it. it was so frustrating!

    • mamakats says:

      I know it is! I hope to follow up this article with future posts that offer specific suggestions for what to do in those instances. Sometimes you are going to be more successful than at other times. To start out though you might want to contact the site administrator and let them know about the situation. Have all of your documentation including the “hell” they gave you ready to present in order to make it easier to sell your case to the administrator. You might get luck and they take the post down for you.

      • Alexandria says:

        one of the moderators of the site was part of the hassle if you can believe that! after a bunch of back & forth another mod did take it down & someone posted it again and another mod removed that post the next day.

  • 30ish Mama says:

    Thanks so much for this information, especially the tip on protecting our blogs for free. As a high school English teacher I can add that plagiarism often begins at a young age. I don’t know how many students I caught over the years, sometimes they simply misunderstood the parameters of paraphrasing but many times it was downright theft.

  • Great info! With a lot of fellow bloggers getting some of their posts, creative pictures ripped off this is an important issue. Thanks for sharing, I will be registering my blog right away 🙂

  • bj says:

    Hope I am attending roll call at the right place. I just leave a comment on the first post I come to.
    I stay in a state of confusion all the time so if this is not right, somebody PLEASE let me know.
    thanks, bj

  • This is great information. I write a food blog and I know recipes cannot be copyrighted but the instructions and special wording you put into it can be. I take a lot of time to do my research and write my instructions. I would hate to see that posted all over the web with credit given to someone else. I take special care to note who I may have gotten an original recipe from before I make changes. Oddly, several recipe competitions I have entered state that I give up all my copyright to them so they can publish them as their own. I had to think long and hard about that before I entered. Can they do that if you can’t copyright a recipe? Is it fair to the recipe creator?

    • Scraps says:

      In that case it’s more than they’re planning to maybe, possibly, sometime down the line use that in a printed/ebook/etc collection which CAN be copyrighted. Giving up rights (which is more than just copyright) means you’re entitled to nothing from the proceeds should they decide to use your work–it’s standard but a good thing to be aware of.

    • mamakats says:

      This is definitely a more nuanced area of the law. And the reason these competitions ask you to sign a waiver is so that they can utilize your recipes for their financial gain in the form of cookbooks or other advertisements. As frustrating as it may feel to give up your rights in those instances, it also gives you exposure in the larger community, right? As long as you feel like you are still getting a benefit enjoy the experience of participating!

      • After long, hard contemplation I did give up my rights. Think of how jazzed I will be if one of my recipes wins a competition. It means I’m on the right track, that people think I’m creating great flavors and want to pass that on to others. Plus, my recipes are directed at getting people to eat natural, unprocessed foods and just like my blog that’s the whole point.

  • Jamie says:

    In flipping through blogs I see a lot of similar things. People link up and share decorating ideas, menus, recipes etc. So if I am flipping through a blog, see a decorating idea, do a version of it myself then post about it, is that copyright infringement?

    • Scraps says:

      Nope, copyright protects their realization of an idea, not you trying it yourself and posting your results (though it’s a good idea to post where the idea/pattern/instructions came from because plagiarism CAN extend to ideas… it’s murky when you get into an argument about that).

    • mamakats says:

      recipes and instructions fall into their own categories. For instance, if you are discussing your own experience of utilizing a specific recipe, then crediting where the recipe originates from and linking back to the original source should protect your interests in writing your story.

  • Great information. When I first started blogging I was very concerned about using images or even including a quote from someone else with proper credit given. Frankly, though, the blogs I enjoy most tend to be those where the author shares his or her own thoughts with little editing. Being inspired by someone else is fine, taking their work and using it for your own gain, not so much.

  • Fenny says:

    Great post….. as I live in the Netherlands (and have no clue how to protect my work here) this gave a little more insight in the USA system.
    The issue came up for me today with the SITS 31DBBB challenge to write a linked post. I read an article the week before that I want to use, a couple sentences as quotes adn referring to the content, with of course a link to said article.
    However, the article is clearly copyrigthed, not creative license, but big fat R.
    As far as I understand it the way I want to use it should be okay (no ads on my blog, I won’t derive monetary gain from more exposure, if that would happen).
    Can someone tell me if thhis is true?

    • Scraps says:

      Lack of monetary gain is not the free pass that a lot of people thing–copyright infringement is using something someone else made, and passing it off as your own. If the owner doesn’t want you to, it doesn’t matter if you’re making money off it or not.

      That said, quoting an article (like an expert source, that sort of thing) and saying So-and-so had this to say on the subject… (or something to that affect) and your response to it, expounding and such, that’s generally covered under fair use in the U.S. as commentary or, in the case of humor, parody/satire. Quotes with attribution is not the same thing as lifting a work whole.

      If you’re really concerned, don’t quote or copy/paste any of the original content, just put something like “I was reading so-and-so’s post on such-and-such” with hyperlinks under the topic or post name and leave it like that. And, when in doubt, contact the other blogger and ask if it would be okay to quote them (be very specific as to what parts).

      • Fenny says:

        @scraps
        Thank you so much for clarifying!! You are of great help, much appreciated.
        I did email the @license a couple of days ago and will wait for a bit if I get an answer. I can also try and email the writer of the piece. If I don’t get answers, I’ll go ahead as you suggested in the last paragraph.

    • mamakats says:

      As I understand it, you can use quotes, but not the whole article and you must credit the author and do a linkback to the original. Also, if you are unsure, take the time to write the author requesting permission to utilize the work. Oftentimes the author is trying to take significant steps toward protecting their own creative efforts but will authorize someone to utilize their work as long as they are asked; they just want to be able maintain the control over their works.

  • Madison says:

    Copyright in Canada is a bit different. Unless they’ve changed the rules without me noticing, “fair use” means you can make a copy for personal use. When I was in college profs would often want to use one chapter out of a book. One course could have 50 chapters from 50 separate books. To save students all that money, the prof photocopied the chapter and put it in the library. Each student was allowed to make one copy of each chapter for personal use. That is considered fair use.

    The current state of copyright law in Canada is why major American TV stations and movie studios have blocked Canadians from watching their online video.

    • mamakats says:

      In fact, until recently US copyright was enforced in similar fashion. It was actually hip hop / electronic music that forced a change in how companies and the US court system addressed the needs of artists and music companies to protect their work. Taking 10% of a song is a pretty significant portion of that work – so the courts had to really begin to consider how to keep profits in the hands of the businesses that own the music. The US courts still have a long way to go in protecting the interests of artists and copyright owners.

  • Kate says:

    Great post! I’m going to check out the creative commons site!

    I’m a former history grad student, if there’s anything that they grind into brain is that if you do the crime you’ll do the time…aka…get kicked out! I’m super paranoid about it, but I have seen my stuff on other people’s blogs & it’s so irritating!

  • myne Whitman says:

    I use the CC copyright but I’m not sure it’s that effective. I don’t go looking for people who copy my work because I don’t put that much on it, but maybe a time will come when I will.

  • Mama Mary says:

    Love this post! Such great information. The Internet is such open game for taking other people’s material so this is important stuff for us crazy bloggers to know. Love this new segment on the site, BTW. You SITS Girls know how to rock it!

  • Jill says:

    This is great info! It’s something I’ve been meaning to do, but just haven’t done it yet. Thanks so much for the amazing link & info. =)

  • Debbie smith says:

    Great information!! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  • Shana says:

    This is such a great resource. I’m definitely going to visit creative commons. Thanks for the info.

  • Mommy D says:

    Thank you for this. I have been wondering what is out their that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. I will definitely be looking into this!

  • Lucky Dame says:

    I try to give credit to any images I use but sometimes I just can’t find a source. If anything, I’ll make a note of the website it came from.

    Thanks for posting this!

  • mangiabella says:

    fascinating post! i confess i never think about copyrighting my posts, these are great tips for sure!!!

  • Thanks for spreading this info into the blogosphere. I’m surprised at how often bloggers steal the work of other bloggers.

  • Melissa says:

    I was surprised to see the amount of people who take other blog posts and put them on their blog as their own. I had it happen to me once, though they changed the names and a few minor details. I could clearly see it was my post. It wasn’t anything major so I didn’t say anything. Maybe they don’t have a life and needed to borrow mine.

  • Rene W. says:

    Best thing I’ve done for my blog was copyrighting… it has caught a couple of copy cats!!

  • LBDDiaries says:

    Cool! Awesome info and I am thankful you posted this for us to learn from. Plus it generated comments with even more useful info – whoo hoo!

  • Hutch says:

    Thank you for posting this! This was something I wanted to do as part of my recent re-design, but I had no idea how to even get started. So helpful!

  • Question:

    If you site the source does it give you the right to copy a whole blog post someone has written or is permission still needed from the author ?

    • Scraps says:

      Unless you created it or have permission from the creator, you have no right to the item. Period.

      In the case of Creative Commons licenses or other text on a site that gives you permission (usually under specific criteria) to use the material, you don’t need to email the owner to ask for permission, that’s what the CC license is generally used for.

      If you are quoting a small portion of it for the purposes of commentary or supporting your own work with back-up information, that USUALLY falls under fair use, but you should still cite your source/link to the original.

      • Aruna says:

        Thanks for clarifying. I always like to cite my source and a link back seems fair too.

      • mamakats says:

        It is best to ask permission of the author and as part of copyright protection one should never copy an entire post.

        When you create an original post you want to make sure that you retain control over your work. Interestingly, Steven Colbert just this morning started stealing blogposts from the Huffington Post to make a point about who owns the original creative work. It’s going to be quite a show to watch how this plays out in the media as well as the courts (if it gets to that!).

  • I’ve found whole blog posts of mine on other sites with no mention of the source. I think it’s because I write info pieces. I usually leave a comment on the post saying where it is from and also send them an emai if I can find an address. But it is often a site with no contact info so it makes it hard to follow up.

    With blogging being a world wide phenomenon i wonder how copyright law applies in other countries and who will enforce it anyway?

  • Jessica says:

    Thank you for the link. I will be looking into that!

  • Scraps says:

    Ah, copyright… always a bugaboo for any creative types, no matter on what side of the coin!

    I want to mention that (just because it could be misconstrued from the way the article was written) IDEAS cannot be copyrighted, only the tangible expression of them (a photograph, an article/post, a piece of art).

    Also, I know with artwork (drawings, photographs, etc.) you can register batches of them for the same flat fee ($35 currently, if I’m not mistaken… I’m a little behind on registering my comics, etc.) as if you did one at a time. In which case, you may be able to assemble (in pdf form, for instance–submissions can be digitally filed) a year’s worth of blog posts or so many months at a time and register your posts in that way (as if they were a book). It’s worth looking into IF you really want that extra layer of protection.

    And one last note (only because, as an artist, I’ve come up against this a LOT): tangible items are copyrighted; names, taglines, slogans, etc. fall under trademark laws (and that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish); and processes and formulas fall under patents (which must be unique and all sorts of other things in order to be registered, which is why ingredient lists for recipes cannot be copyright or patent-protected, except in the case of trade-secret formulas).

    • mamakats says:

      I was going to write about the differences between trademark and copyright, but thought in this format that it could get a little confusing. I know what you are referencing, but it might be fuzzy for some of our readers because the lines do get blurry on many blogs that incorporate both artwork, music or text.

      I’m glad you pointed this out for a good future article!

  • Cheryl D. says:

    Great article! I’m going to have to post it on my wall, without giving you credit! (j/k, of course–but it is a great article).

    I have a friend who’s an English Lit professor. She was once grading a student’s essay when she became suspicious of the whole paper. She ran some searches on the internet, but came up empty. She thought the paper just seemed familiar to her somehow. Then she realized that a lot of the writing sounded like something she had done. She searched through her old college papers and found that the student lifted her own words! I don’t know how he dug the paper up. Can you believe the stupidity?

    I’m going to visit your blog! I’m the mother of one child who has Asperger’s (and who will probably be in the gifted or highly gifted category!).

  • This is great!! Thank you so much : )

  • Nicky says:

    Great topic! I too use Creative Commons – what a wonderful thing!

  • Beth says:

    I put a small copyright blurb at the bottom of my blog, but only because I saw other bloggers do this. It’s nice to know why I should do this and about Creative Commons.

    By the way, do you HAVE to have the year(s) listed in your copyright statement on your blog? Does that matter?

    • mamakats says:

      Having the year listed does afford you some sense of a timeline on your blog in the event that some else uses your work, but again that timeline stuff is tricky because we can all backdate, right?

      There are some really good strategies for establishing a timeline for your work and hopefully I’ll have the space and time to write about this in an upcoming installment.

  • Amy W. says:

    Such good information. I use Creative Commons, and I think we should all do some form of protection on our sites.

  • Thanks for the heads up! I have pulled up another window and am on the Creative Commons web site creating a license for myself as we speak.

  • Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the breakdown here. Copyright is a topic that bloggers really do need to understand.

  • This is really interesting I have to find out what the deal is here in the UK, I know we can use creative commons but I wonder what is set up other than that.

    Thanks for the info today,
    Jade

  • Karen says:

    Thank you. This is very informative. I put a little copyright verbiage at the bottom of my blog but had no idea if it actually did anything.

  • Jessica says:

    This is something on my blogging to do list, I really need to get at least my copyright stuff in order. Thanks for the push and the great info!

  • Alison says:

    although i try to be extremely careful in this regard, there are times when i have used images from the web that i cannot find ownership to attribute credits. i always attribute other’s blog content where necessary. thanks for the helpful info.

  • this is good stuff! One time I actually took another persons article and posted it on my blog- was so excited to share witih my readers that I ACTUALLY FORGOT to mention who wrote it and the post went live, Whoops! Probably one of my biggest blogger mistakes ever. . . Now, I am always double checking wehre my links or sources come from! 🙂