8 Things Blog Writers Must Know about Copyright

Copyright - Copy or original by TeroVasalainen CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

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

Words and Art by varion CC0 Public DomainThe 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


My name isNames 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


Life plus 70 yearsCopy­right 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


Recording by CSTRSK CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

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


Sections add detailFair 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.


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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.

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4 Replies to “8 Things Blog Writers Must Know about Copyright”

  1. Peter I appre­ci­ate this expla­na­tion on copy­right. The order in which you pre­sent­ed this infor­ma­tion sim­pli­fied for me how copy­right works. Thanks.

    1. John, I am pleased to have been able to assist.

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  3. […] engine providers, hence their need to down­grade dupli­cate mate­r­i­al. Con­sid­er for one moment the prob­lem of copy­right. Who owns a copy­right, in a dis­pute, is nor­mal­ly decid­ed by a judge, reach­ing such a deci­sion can […]

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