Copyright applies to many thing that people have created. You may ask, why should I care about copyright? This is a good question. Think about this, if you have spent significant effort creating something that somebody else subsequently copies. They laugh in your face as they profit from it. Will it matter to you? It should. These are the eight basic things Blog writers must know about copyright.
The General Rule of Copyright
The words, music, artistic creations and all publications are subject to copyright. You do not need to apply for a copyright, it is automatic. Write the words, music, or art, and they automatically attract your copyright. Post those words to your own blog site then, normally, you keep the copyright.
Posting your pieces to other people’s websites, or publish them in books/magazines, can change who owns the copyright. Think about a book publication for one moment. Typically creators own the copyright for whatever they create, words, artwork etc. Publishers hold the copyright for page layouts, cover styling etc. They may also hold other rights (such as translation rights).
The question: whose copyright, can become a little complex. If you an employee and you write a report for your boss as a normal course of your work, the copyright will automatically belong to the firm you wrote it for. You have no rights to the material, other than to recognised as the writer. In this situation, it is possible that quoting your own words (without permission) can breach copyright. Former employers have been known to sue for such breaches. It could also be a breach of confidentiality or a non-disclosure agreement that you are likely to have signed when employed.
A person employed to design products for their employer will find different rules apply. In this instance it is likely that the firm holds the rights to all of the designs, whether items have gone into production or not. In this circumstance you should check with a lawyer what rights you retain. This normally applies to designs and not words though.
1 — It Does Not Apply to Names
Names of products, brands, businesses, organisations, groups, pseudonyms, book titles, newspaper titles, catchphrases, mottos, tag-lines, or even advertising slogans etc. are not copyright-able. The same is true of the names of fictional characters. Business, brand and product names may be protected by trade marks, as long as the name continues to be used. When a name falls into disuse it can no longer be protected by a trade mark. Publishers do sometimes trademark the names of their principal characters.
Given there is no protection for the book title “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” you could in theory re-use it. But, it unlikely you will find a publisher that would allow you to repeat Kesey’s title in a new publication. Publishers may also wish to avoid titles that could be confused with someone else’s, such as “One Flew over Gramma’s House”.
2 — Copying and Editing is Plagiarism
Let’s be very clear — there is no copyright in an idea. Once an idea been set down in written form then it becomes available for use by other people in their own words. It is the precise words used that attract the copyright.
Copying a text then changing a few words here and there doesn’t cease being plagiarism. The same is true when you take words from multiple sources and meld them together. In such an instance you could be in breach of multiple copyrights at the same time. Bloggers have to obey the rules of copyright just as any other writer does. Writers need to learn how to quote sources and give credit otherwise they may have their site closed.
There are free plagiarism checkers available on the Internet where you can test what you have written. However, if everything you have written comes from your own mind then you will never need to use such software.
3 — Duration of Copyright
Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus a fixed period of years. Most western countries recognise the term is life plus 70 years, this term is possibly, as low as 50 years and as high as 125 years, depending on the jurisdiction and the type of material protected.
As mentioned before for books there are two types of copyright. Firstly the words, secondly the typographical and layout copyright — belonging to the publisher. Although the words of Charles Dickens, who died on the 9th of June 1870, are now out of copyright you could not photocopy, or scan his works as it likely breaches the publisher’s rights. Such rights, even for an old first edition, are likely to have been transferred many times over the years to new corporations, including modern publishing companies.
Copying and changing out of copyright works may not be illegal, but most publishers would consider it unethical.
4 — Classic Artworks
For artworks created by old masters, be aware these are in the public domain (because either there was no copyright when painted or the copyright has since expired) there is no copyright. See “Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain” for more information about the rules about artwork,
A US federal court decided that photos taken of public domain artworks that are purely copies or reproductions of the artworks are not subject to independent copyright. The Intellectual Property Office in the UK also follows these general guidelines. However rules may differ, slightly, in other countries.
5 — Copyright Applies to a Recording
Transcribing the exact words used in a TV or radio programme is normally a breach of copyright. You may quote reasonable quantities provided your own interpretation is clear. For example an interview carried out between a TV presenter and a sports star. The full text of the questions asked and the answers provided are subject to copyright, usually belonging to the TV company. It is different in recording a lecture for your college course — if the recording is transcribed into your own lecture notes and the recording erased then there is no breach of the lecturer’s copyright.
You may quote the star, using the most significant sentences spoken. It may even be possible to publish a snippet of the recording without breaching copyright. However, if you repeat the whole recording then you will be subject to enforcement action. At its simplest this starts at a request to remove the offending material, but can also include legal action for damages.
Quoting the words used, from your own memory, will not infringe copyright because they are your own interpretation of the spoken words. Few people have a photographic memory and you will miss-remember one small detail, which will change the meaning, very slightly. The difference needs understanding. When the words come from your own memory, they are similar to the words spoken, they will convey the message. But your mind will interpret what you heard. It is how the mind functions.
They are not normally the precise words used, but an approximate likeness. This recollection is akin to paraphrasing. You do have to be careful about the words you use as other legal rules do apply, such as libel. Making accusations can bring with them their own legal action.
There are other laws about recording people and attaining their permission in certain jurisdictions, but these relate to privacy law and not copyright.
6 — Fair Use of Sections
“Fair use” doctrine allows limited copying of copyright material under certain circumstances. This normally applies to physical copies, but relates to material copied for writing purposes. This includes educational and research as well as for criticism and news reporting. Generally usage that is not-for-profit is normally educational. Use of large sections is not fair use, even when taken by a college or school.
Criticism can attract the greatest attention here. Most great critics will copy sentences or paragraphs then explore the various theories, using their own words, examining as they go the correctness or failure of various thinkers words (including the writer being criticised). Thus criticism is a type of writing that deconstructs the written word to advance an alternate thesis. A good critic will also paraphrase much of the work that they are de-constructing, thus not breach the original writer’s copyright.
7 — There are Limits to what you can Copy
There are limits to what you should copy from someone else’s work. Normally it is acceptable to copy a sentence, perhaps two sentences. You may even quote the whole paragraph to place the relevant words into context. Be clear when quoting another writer and you must mention the writer by name and the source of the text. Today that often demands a hyperlink. It would not be deemed as acceptable to quote whole pages of text (or even include a photograph of it).
In general you should quote the least amount to make the necessary point. Ask yourself if your piece works by only quoting a phrase? If that completes the meaning then it is all you should use.
Usage is more complex when arguing against a proposition the author has made. Here several sentences or paragraphs may need be examined and explained. The majority of the work should be your own. Please note that critiques are often more lengthy than an original work. Thus it is possible to quote one sentence, look at that, then move on to the next etc. to fully examine the original writer’s words.
8 — Take care Quoting Religious Texts
Books like the Bible or Qur’an (and of course other holy books) do not have copyright associated with the texts, unless the text derives from a 20th century translation.
If there is no copyright then, in theory at least, there is no reason why Chapters and Verses could not be copied from the Bible or the Ajiza and Suras be copied from the Qur’an. A citation from religious books is usually referenced with the book name, chapter, number and verse. This should provide context and anyone wishing to know further can look it up for themselves.
Direct quotes from religious books isn’t original work. On-line writers should be striving to produce original work. One website that I work with has a policy that no more than 10% of the content should be copied from texts like the Bible. They believe the value religious thought brings is in moral evaluation, placing it into the context of modern times. By all means use a couple of sentences as a quote to enhance the value of what you are saying, but make sure the content is your own, not what the holy book said.
If you produce your own words, straight from your mind then you are unlikely be found in breach of another person’s copyright. This is true even if you intended to style yourself after another writer.Obey these rules and you should not find yourself breaching another person’s copyright. If you do quote someone else then make it clear that it is their words that you are using.
Related Items on This Site
The following pages are also about related material:
- Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain
- Looking for Topic Ideas for your Writing?
- Accusations and Allegations – Are you Writing Responsibly?
- Will you Unlock Your Potential as a Blog Writer?
- A Career Path for the On-Line Writer?
Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for discussing the complexities of copyright and how it applies to blogs. If you have questions then please ask them via a comment. All images used here are available in the public domain and have been resourced from royalty free sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash.