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Where is the Line? Sharing Content v. Copyright Infringement

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We’ve all done it. You see something great online: a relatable video, a funny cartoon, an interesting article, a great quote, and you share it with someone. Maybe that just means showing your phone to the person sitting next to you. Maybe you retweet or click “Share.” Maybe you screen capture or download it, and repost it somewhere else. Some of these actions are fine. Others may actually be copyright infringement.

The internet is an incredibly powerful tool for sharing information and creative work. For makers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs, posting work online boosts their impact and increases sales. But, it also increases their vulnerability to having their work stolen. So, where is the line?

Just Because it is Easy Doesn’t Make it Right

There is a common misconception that, if it’s online, it’s in the public domain. Fortunately for makers, artists, and creatives, this is not the case. Using content without permission is the same as “borrowing” someone’s car without permission. Stealing is stealing, even online.

When an author creates an original work (whether a writing, song, video, webpage, drawing, photograph, etc.), he or she owns the copyright to that work. This is an automatic right. There is no need to register or give notice of this right in any way. Although many creators will choose to register their copyrights and claim that right by using a copyright notice alongside the work, these actions are not required to retain the rights inherent in creating an original work.

A copyright, by its basic definition, is the exclusive right to print, perform, produce, or give permission for the use of an original creative work. That means even formats like Youtube videos, poems posted on Instagram, and Facebook photos are all copyrighted material, owned by the original creators. A copyright lasts for the lifetime of the original creator, plus 70 years.

Sharing is Not a Free-for-All

You’ve heard the old saying, “Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right.” In this case, nothing could be truer. Just because every one is sharing content online doesn’t mean that some copyright owners aren’t enforcing their rights, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are immune to enforcement action if you are found sharing content without permission.

Sharing content you find online is a violation of copyright law unless you were expressly given permission by the original content creator. In some cases, you can take a cue from the platform where you found the work and its terms. For example, Twitter’s terms state that users agree to have their content “retweeted” within the platform. This means that Twitter users have permission to share content within the app, although this permission does not extend to sharing the same content on other platforms.

Very commonly, the post or site where you find content may not be the original source. If it is clear that the video, article, photograph, or artwork came from elsewhere, stay safe by steering clear of sharing. If the post you find is work reproduced without permission, your share may also be an infringement of the original owner’s copyright. If you want to share something you see, poke around the internet until you find the original source of the content. Share a link to the original source, rather than reposting it from someone else.

Attribution is Not a Get Out of Jail Free Card

When you were in school, you probably learned a little bit about plagiarism — using someone’s work without giving credit or attribution. In school, this was considered a serious offense, and it could even result in expulsion. In the wider world, however, giving credit or attribution to the original author’s work is not enough to get off the hook for copyright infringement. The bottom line is plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing, and the criteria for each are very different. Enforcing a copyright is not just about getting credit; it is also about being fairly compensated for the work you create.

When You May be Infringing Without Even Knowing It

Despite all of the wonderful ways that business owners, entrepreneurs, and creatives can use the internet to their advantage, it is uniquely difficult to navigate when it comes to copyright infringement. For instance, on the world wide web, it is possible to infringe on a copyright without even knowing it. When you see content you want to share, do you know where it came from really? What if the site where you found it stole the content in the first place? Not knowing about the source of content is not a defense to copyright infringement. Even when using sites like Creative Commons to find photos for a website, you have to be very careful. Although Creative Commons content specifically provides the licensing and use information with each photograph, it is difficult to tell whether that photo you love was uploaded by the original photographer or someone who reproduced it without permission.

To keep yourself, your brand, and your business safe, remember this rule: if you do not own the content, you must ask permission to share it or pay the copyright holder for a license to use it.

Protect Your Intellectual Property and Your Business

With all of these warnings, what can you do to avoid copyright infringement? As we mentioned, get permission. Ask the creator. If you don’t know who the creator is, use your online sleuthing skills to find out.  If you can’t find the source of content or you aren’t sure whether you have permission to share, just don’t. Create your own content instead.

One of the best ways to protect your own intellectual property, as well as your business, is to create a system. If you are a maker or creative, have a system in place for monitoring your content to protect your copyrights. If you are a business owner creating content and curating social media that occasionally shares or uses photos, videos, or audio that you did not create, educate yourself on how to ensure that you have permission to use that content. Create internal policies for your team, as well. If you are confused or want some help, reach out to The Brand Protected®. Click here to set up an appointment.  

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