Copyright Talk!

February 1, 2007 by Lois S

We come across it in various ways; searches, inbound links, people notifying us of a web page they`ve seen. A page at someone else`s site with our content or our design.

Our reaction may be…frustration? Annoyance? Indignation? Perhaps all of these. When content, graphics, or designs are copied from our website, it`s the equivalent of furniture being taken from our offices without permission. In other words, it`s stealing.

Copyright misconceptions

Misconceptions about how copyright works are part of why copyright violations occur often. Let`s look at some of these misconceptions as they apply in the US.

If it`s been published online, it`s in the public domain.

Not true. When work is `in the public domain` it has no copyright limitations, and anyone can freely use it. Creative work published online, including web pages and designs, has the same copyright protection as work published elsewhere.

Reproducing content is fair use

Fair use allows people to copy a portion of a work for purposes such as commentary or criticism, or to use in a parody. It does not allow people to copy what they want when they want.

It`s OK to copy articles as long as you include the author`s name or a link to the site

Nowhere in US copyright law does it state that including the above allows people to copy other people`s material without permission.

It`s OK to copy articles or designs as long as you change them a little.

Only the copyright holder of the original work has the legal right to publish derivative works from that work. Other people need permission from the copyright holder to use anything derived from the original.

Copyright applies only for a short time, so it`s OK to copy material after that.

Work that was published in the US after 1978 is copyrighted for 70 years after the death of the copyright holder. Publishing content at a website or even in a newsgroup or forum post is publication. With work-for-hire work, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the date of publication or for 120 years after it was created, whichever time period is shorter.

It`s only copyrighted if its creator registered the work.

Literary and design work is automatically copyrighted when it`s created. Every time we write even a forum post or an email to a friend or client, we own the copyright to that work. Registering copyright provides a public record of the copyright, but except in copyright disputes, registration is not normally necessary.

It`s only copyrighted if a copyright notice with the current year appears with it.

A copyright notice used to be required for work to be considered copyrighted, but it hasn`t been required since 1989.

So how does copyright work?

Copyright laws vary in different countries. The laws we`re discussing here are US copyright laws.

Copyright is legal protection for original works of authorship, published or unpublished. It does not protect names, titles, slogans, or ideas, but it protects the creative expression of ideas. To have legal ownership of a company name or slogan, the name or slogan needs to be trademarked.

If we created the work, we own the copyright to it, and we have the right to decide how it`s used. Exceptions are if we created the work in an agreement for someone else or if we sell the copyright.

While a copyright notice is not a legal necessity, it`s useful to include a copyright notice with our work for these reasons:

It informs people who are uninformed about copyright laws that our work is copyrighted. We can hope that a copyright notice will deter at least some people from copying our content. It indicates the date when the work was first copyrighted and published. It leaves little or no room for anyone to claim ignorance if they do copy our material..

Copyright applies only for a short time, so it`s OK to copy material after that.

Work that was published in the US after 1978 is copyrighted for 70 years after the death of the copyright holder. Publishing content at a website or even in a newsgroup or forum post is publication. With work-for-hire work, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the date of publication or for 120 years after it was created, whichever time period is shorter.

Consequences of copyright theft

The feelings from discovering that someone decided to steal work that we created or paid for are bad enough. We worked hard or paid someone else to work hard so that our site could have original content or an original design, and it`s no longer unique. In addition, other people are now gaining from our efforts; with no effort on their part except for the effort expended to steal our work.

It gets worse. When search engines find duplicate content at different sites, they may not include all the pages in their search results. Our page may be excluded. So not only do thieves get the benefit of our content at their sites, they may take away our ability to benefit from our content.

Steps to take when our material has been copied

The first step is to contact the webmaster of the offending site. Explain the problem, show where the material comes from, and state that if it isn`t removed from the site within, say, 14 days, you will take further action. Be polite but firm. More often than not, this step achieves the aim. The webmaster may not have known where the content came from or may be suffering from the misconceptions about copyright law.

If that doesn`t work, complaining to the web host is a viable option. Most web hosts state in their terms that they don`t allow illegal content, and using copyrighted material without permission is illegal. If the website is on a shared account, the web host can be identified through the whois details for the domain.

It`s unlikely that you`ll need to take further steps, but if you need to escalate the situation, be prepared to pay a few hundred dollars for a cease and desist letter from a lawyer. And let your lawyer handle it from there.

That copyright notice

- The word `Copyright` or the copyright symbol is required. While only one is necessary, it`s customary to use both.

- The year of publication must be included

- It isn`t legally necessary to include the current year as well, but copyright notices typically include it. Without the current year, some people may think that the copyright has expired.

- The name of the copyright holder must be in the copyright notice.

We don`t need a copyright notice on our web pages, but as we`ve seen, it`s a good idea to have one. What should it contain?

About the Author:

Lois S. is a Technical Executive Writer for http://www.websitesource.com with experience in the website hosting and domain registration industry.


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