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When It’s OK to Copy

Copyright Lines Can Be Blurred by Social Media, Video Sharing and Affiliate Programs

With the advent of photo sharing websites like Flickr and video sharing sites like YouTube, the lines of copyright have blurred slightly. These types of websites have links that allow you to add their content to your own sites for the purposes of sharing it with your visitors.

Is this OK? You bet it is! As long as you give credit and don’t claim the work is your own, you’re all set. That’s what social media and (legal!) video sharing websites are made for! The big but, however, is that the photos or videos have to be user created or submitted. That user can be an individual or a company. But, you can’t grab copyrighted works that have been illegally shared. If a person posts an episode of the television show Lost, that belongs to ABC Television, not the person who posted it, so you should steer clear.

It is OK to use works in the Public Domain without asking permission. It is good form to always cite your source, but you can copy without fear of being sued. Remember, however, that just because something does not have a copyright notice printed on it or was posted on a blog somewhere does not mean it’s public domain.

According to the Copyright office (and available on Wikipedia as well):

Myth: The lack of a copyright notice means the work is public domain.
Not usually true. United States law in effect since March 1, 1989, has made copyright the default for newly created works. For a recent work to be in the public domain the author must specifically opt-out of copyright. For works produced between January 1, 1923 and March 1, 1989, copyright notice is required; however, registration was not required and between January 1, 1978 and March 1, 1989 lack of notice is not necessarily determinative, if attempts were made immediately to correct the lack of notice.

Opting out of copyright is something that has taken shape in different ways on the internet. Multiple types of licenses exist on the internet that allow reproduction with or without restrictions.

The various forms of the Creative Commons License allow for using the published work to varying degrees within your own creations. This typically requires a citation of the original creator. There are also multiple types of software licenses that function along the same lines. The bottom line in this case is to always look for copyright information and/or always read the license.

Affiliate programs are an interesting work-around to copyright rules. If you belong to an affiliate program, you have permission to show an image on your website of the product you are promoting. While you don’t have a license through the original creator to display this image, you usually have permission through your affiliate agreement to show product images so you can promote them.

For example, if you are an affiliate of a poster site, you can show any of those posters on your site – including copyrighted art. The rule is usually that while you can show an image of the product, you can’t (a) show an image by the same artist that the company does not offer in poster form, (b) display an alternate rendering of the image that is not identical to the product being promoted and (c) use any part of the images in your logo, website design or unrelated promotions.

That is just one example, but you can apply that reasoning to other types of affiliate promotion as well. For instance, if you are doing media buys or banner advertising, this is how you are able to display the banner containing, let’s say, the Netflix® logo.

In the next copyright article, I’ll show you a huge time and money saver that is designed for you to copy.

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