7 Online Copyright Myths

Possunt quia posse videntur –
They can because they think they can.

One of the most misunderstood issues online has to do with copyright. Both with e-mail and Web site copyright issues. For some reason, as with many things online, there is this incorrect perception that anything goes. However, many are finding out the hard way that when it comes to protecting creative collateral, copyright is law. And, copyright laws can and are being enforced online.

No, I am not an attorney. Nor do I play one on T.V. But I can help you avoid potential problems based on guiding clients for over a decade. Hopefully, this effort will help others from finding out the hard way that copyright is alive and well online.

1) “I can right click, save anything online and use it how I wish.”

This is a perfect example of just because you can doesn’t mean you do! Those graphics or files were created by someone out there. They legally attained the copyright upon that file’s creation. Without their specific permission to use that file or graphic, you have no right to just take it and use it as you please. Always ask a site owner before you illegally swipe anything off their site.

2) “As long as I note the author’s name, I can use their site’s content on my site.”

Although you are being nice and giving credit where credit is due, you still need to ask the author’s permission to post their work on your site. The author may not want their information posted anywhere off their own site or they many not approve of your site as a venue for their information – that is their choice to make not yours. Always ask a site owner if you can use their content before you put it on your site.

3) “I can link to graphics on other sites so that they display on my site.”

O.K., maybe you didn’t actually download the graphic and put it on your server, but if you are displaying someone else’s work on your site without their permission the bottom line is still the same. And, you are using their server’s resources to display something on your site. Shame on you!

4) “I can display pages from other Web sites within frames on my site.”

Many site owners prohibit their site pages from being framed within another site because it gives the impression that the other site created the information. Many times folks innocently do this so they don’t have to send site visitors off their site for information they want to provide. Others do so to precisely give the impression it is content they created. A better option is to link to the information you like and create a new window to open when doing so to ensure your site is still available to your site visitors.

5) “If I only quote a portion of other site’s content and link to them I do not need their permission.”

Again, it would behoove you to have permission to do so. Using only portions allows you to possibly give the wrong impression about the author’s overall content and this can be misleading at best. If you want to quote any written work in whole or part you need to ask permission to do so.

6) “If I pay someone to create graphics for my Web site, I own the copyright to those graphics.”

Not necessarily. Unless your agreement with the graphic artist explicitly states that upon your payment all of their rights are then transferred to you, you most likely only have exclusive license to use those graphics. And to purchase the full copyright will cost you a bunch more than simple exclusivity!

Understand that the moment anything is created whether it be written or drawn, the creator owns the copyright – that’s the law. Over the years I’ve had clients claim they own copyright just because they paid me to create this or that. It simply, legally, is not the case (and my contract(s) clearly state this – including their option to purchase my copyright if they so choose).

Copyright can only be transferred in a written legally binding agreement signed by the creator of the work stating they are transferring their rights to you. Saying you own it because you paid for it doesn’t make it legal fact. If you do not have a written agreement specifically transferring the copyright to you, you do not own the copyright to those graphics.

7) “E-mail is not copyright protected once it is sent.”

E-mail is a written work that once created is copyright protected by the author. This means you cannot post publicly an e-mail sent to you privately. You cannot post private e-mails to your site, to message boards or to your blog without the author’s specific permission to do so.

Just because an e-mail was sent to you as a private communication does not mean you then own it and can do with it what you like. In addition, e-mail that is posted to a group of people, on a mailing list or Newsgroup does not make the e-mail available for reposting, copying, or any other use – not without the express and written consent of the writer.

What’s the bottom line with online copyright?

Courtesy! Don’t assume that you can use, repost or take anything you find online simply because you can. Be a courteous Netizen and always ask first!

You might be interested to find a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) page and policy statement on your ISP and hosting provider’s Web sites to handle complaints and reports of the above types of copyright abuse. Take some time to read that information and make yourself aware of your rights and make sure you do not infringe on others. The main resource for all the legal mumbo jumbo on online copyright and the DMCA is on the Governments site @ http://www.copyright.gov.

Again, I am not an attorney nor am I providing legal advice. I hope I’ve informed you of some of the issues that need to be seriously considered by all who are online whether they are creating their own or using others creative or written works.

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About the Author:

Judith Kallos is an authoritative and good-humored Technology Muse.
Check out her new book: “Because Netiquette Matters! Your
Comprehensive Reference Guide to E-mail Etiquette and Proper
Technology Use” @: http://web.archive.org/web/20060320200308/http://www.becausenetiquettematters.com/