Congratulations – you have a blog now and you are ready to start writing, creating, sharing and networking! Yet, all the fun may be intertwined with the risk of legal liability – think take down letters, complaints and infringement claims. Not a funny side of blogging, I know.
Let’s look at blogging from several legal perspectives:
- Part One will focus on what bloggers should do or avoid doing in order to stay away from legal liability when using materials created by others;
- Part Two will explore the various ways to protect your creative works and rights when blogging;
- And in Part Three, we will go into further aspects a blogger may encounter legal liability or just mere communication problems, e.g. defamation, illegal processing of personal data, using third party blog tools, etc.
Copyright means “I can copy it”, right?
Actually, copyright means that once you are the original author or copyright holder of a creative work that is fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. paper, online, etc.), you have the exclusive right to use it (sell, make copies, publish, etc.), and to prevent others from using it without your permission. Plus, in most cases, you can demand payment for use.
Unlike trademarks and patents, copyright is granted the moment the work is created and fixed. For example, if the blogger only thought about the blog post in their mind, this obviously would not be enough for copyright protection, but once the article is written in a computer file or posted online, as long as it is original and creative, it becomes a work protected by copyright, without the need to register it anywhere. Same applies to all creative works – pictures, graphics, music, videos, etc.
Therefore, from a legal perspective, no © symbol, nor any designation of copyright protection is further needed for the material to be protected (yet, it is a good idea to use those symbols so that the users are informed about your copyright). Only works that are in the public domain could be used freely without their author`s permission.
Hence, any time a blogger uses a material created by another person, permission should be obtained. Finding something on the Internet with an unclear author, does not mean the material is in the public domain. The rule is, if you find a work (e.g. a picture, or a great blog post) on the Internet that you would like to use and its copyright status is unclear, it is most probably protected and a permission to use is required.
How to obtain permission – just use the contact details on the website and ask the owner. No complicated legal letters are needed.
Other People’s Pictures – How to Use Them with No Hassle
It is always best to shoot your photos yourself (or someone you pay to do this), but in case you are unable to create your own images, you can consider any of the following:
- Look for public domain pictures on the internet;
- Look for free pictures on Google Images, Flickr, etc., e.g. under Creative Commons or similar licenses and do not forget that even though they are for free, there may be certain license requirements to be met;
- Pay for stock photos but make sure you use them according to their license.
Regardless of the way a pictures has been obtained, in many countries, and for sure in Europe, the moral rights of the author should be respected, i.e. the author`s name should appear on the work and the work should not be used or modified in a way that it harms author`s reputation (e.g. you better not color a black and white stylish picture in neon pink).
Other People`s Original Content – It Is Not “Just Words”
Permission: You Need It
Obviously, you cannot use someone else`s copyrighted material and just pretend you created it. What you can do if you find a specific article or blog post very inspiring and useful for your own blog, is to ask its author for permission to use it for specific purposes, as discussed above. It is not enough to simply attribute or credit the author, or post a link to its website. If you are not sure about the copyright status of a specific article, picture or another work, it is always a better idea to ask for permission – not only to observe the law, but to establish a courteous relationship with the author.
Quoting and Citation: Gives You Some Freedom, but Be Careful
There are certain exceptions when a copyrighted work can be used without author`s permission in a way that it does not constitute an infringement, e.g. quoting for criticism, commenting, teaching purposes, news reporting, research, etc.
It is always better to paraphrase a given text, but when you need to use a straight copy of it, it should be made very clear that it is a quote (by using “quotation marks” for example), the author`s name should be included, as well as a link to their website and the specific text that is being used, and any further identification information, if possible. Keep in mind that quotation means using small portions of the original content and copying a 1000-word-article straight does not qualify as short.
Translation: A Permission May Be Needed
Many times you would get inspired by another person`s blog post in an another language and it becomes very tempting to just translate it for your blog without many modifications. What has the law to say about it?
Translations of original works are granted separate copyright protection, as they are considered original works too. However, the copyright in translations is dependent on the copyright of the original work. This means that a potential translator who wishes to translate a French blog post in English must obtain permission from the copyright owner who would have rights in both works. Yet, if he translated the work without permission and thus infringed the original author`s copyright, the translation is still considered a copyrighted work regardless of the infringement in between.
What if a third person is willing to translate the already translated content from English to Spanish? This second translator will need to obtain permission of both the original author and the first translator, as both works are related.
Other People`s Ideas and Concepts: Use Them Without Limitation!
The good news is that ideas and concepts are free to use. Copyright only protects the expression of ideas – the combination of words fixated in a medium and not the concept behind the text. So, as far as you don`t take the combination of words and structure of a fellow blogger`s post, you are welcome to put their ideas in motion for you.
Linking: Have Fun!
In most countries there are no specific legal regulations regarding linking.
In general, linking is considered just fine and welcomed by bloggers, but sometimes deep linking may present a problem. Deep linking is when you place a hyperlink not to the homepage (www.chicoverdose.com) of a certain website, but to a specific piece of web content within the website (e.g. http://chicoverdose.com/author/desislava-stankova/).
Moreover, be careful with links to illegal content – e.g. to pirate download of music or movies.
Stay tuned for Parts Two and Three of the e-Law Guide for Bloggers to find out the rest of the most important legal considerations of blogging.