I put this picture on the Internet without a copyright notice, so you can use it however you want, right?
Posting something on the Internet does not change its copyright status any more than publishing it in a magazine does. And the current copyright law doesn’t require either registration or a copyright notice.
I took the photo last summer while driving through Utah. It was copyrighted the instant I took it, and I don’t lose the copyright by posting it on the Internet.
Although a copyright notice isn’t necessary, it does inform the reader who might otherwise copy out of ignorance. I don’t include a formal copyright notice with each individual post on my personal blog, but the site itself contains this warning:
The material on this blog is copyrighted unless otherwise noted. You do not need permission to include links to this blog. To ask permission for other uses, contact me at [e-mail address].
Ignorance is no excuse, of course, and it won’t protect you if someone charges you with copyright infringement for the material you use on your blog or anywhere else. So don’t use anything you are unsure about. With a few exceptions that are beyond the scope of this post, you should get permission to use any material that is not clearly in the public domain. This includes photos and artwork and text and even music.
So what material is clearly in the public domain?
- Material that was published in the United States before 1923. Works that were created or first published in another country may have a longer copyright in those countries, so you may have to be careful about distribution. Some material published after 1923 is also in the public domain, but that is more complicated to figure out.
- Material produced by federal government employees in the course of their official duties. This includes opinions issued by federal courts and reports and photographs created by employees of federal agencies.
- Material that cannot be copyrighted, such as names and titles, short phrases and slogans, ideas, and facts. However, names and titles and short phrases and slogans can become trademarks, which entitles them to a different kind of protection. And although ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted, the expression describing them can be.
Some creators waive the copyright by marking their material with “no rights reserved.” Whether this actually puts the material in the public domain depends on the jurisdiction. At the least, however, it gives the public a blanket permission to use the material. Still, it is best not to rely on the “no rights reserved” tag unless you have good reason to believe that it was added by the person who would otherwise own the copyright.
But, you ask, aren’t there some situations where I can use copyrighted material without getting permission? Of course there are. It’s called “fair use.”
That will be the subject of next month’s post.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.