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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