Sharing can be stealing when what’s shared is someone else’s content. Ask yourself these three questions before assuming that it’s ok to use content you find.
Share and share alike…that’s the philosophy of the internet, right?
Not always. Many take the attitude of “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine,” freely copying and using images, words, videos and other content.
Do that without permission and you might run afoul of copyright laws. Before you click on that image you’d like to use, run through this process to be sure that what you intend to use is available to you, either for free or for payment – and always with credit to the creator.
Be sure you have a working knowledge of copyright. The rules are straightforward, as explained by the U.S. Copyright Office: you make it, you own it.
You can’t copyright commonly used phrases, individual words, titles or names.
You also can’t copyright ideas or concepts, though you can copyright directions and descriptions of ideas and concepts.
If you’re the one who created the content, you control who uses it, when, and how. If someone else created it, they get to control who uses it, when, and how. It doesn’t matter if they put the little copyright symbol on it or not. They made it, they own it.
Unless they’ve been dead for a long time. If, like Dickens and Shakespeare, it has been more than 70 years since your death, and there are no heirs or legal entities renewing the copyright, your content becomes part of the public domain, says the Copyright Office. That means that anyone can use it – and, of course, attribute it to the creator.
People often invoke “fair use” when they want to quote long portions, share, copy or otherwise use content that they did not create. But “fair use” is not a blanket permission to use anything you find.
Traditionally, copyright law has allowed sections of copyrighted work to be used for teaching, criticism, research and similar purposes. Fair use has never included excerpts so large that the creator is deprived of income – for instance, a teacher copying and distributing several chapters of a book so that students don’t have to buy the whole book.
Fair use is a moving target as digital technology changes the nature of copying, sharing and publishing. For instance, the Authors Guild is locked in a suit with Google, which digitally scanned millions of books without the authors’ permission. Google contends that only a little slice of any book is revealed in a single search. The authors disagree and the suit is now in front of the Supreme Court.
Gain access to a trove of content available for free (well, for the price of a credit line) by exploring Creative Commons.
For instance, MorgueFile offers thousands of free-to-use photos and images covered by Creative Commons license. (MorgueFile is owned by iStock, which sells stock photos and images.)
You can find free-to-use content by using the search box at the bottom of the Creative Commons homepage.