In the digital age, content sharing is as simple as the click of a button. Internet users today have unparalleled access to movies, music, books, and other creative works online. With this ease of distribution and accessibility, however, comes an increasingly casual approach to sharing and using copyrighted content and, consequently, the risk of liability for copyright infringement.
Consumers of digital media should be mindful of their online activity in order to avoid repercussions ranging in severity from content removal to expensive litigation. This article will outline key tips for avoiding copyright infringement in this digital age.
Do not assume that because content is publicly available on social media or other online platforms, your use of that content will not incur consequences. Sharing a creative work online does not transfer that work to the public domain. A work will generally only be in the public domain if:
- Its copyright term has expired.
- It was ineligible for copyright protection to begin with.
- It was expressly given to the public by the owner of the copyright.
The absence of a copyright symbol (©) similarly does not constitute permission to make any and all use of the content in question. Further, in many jurisdictions, like the United Kingdom and Canada, a work does not have to be registered to attract copyright protection – protection arises automatically provided certain requirements are met.
You will almost always need permission to use the creative content you find online. This is the case regardless of whether your anticipated use is commercial, charitable, or subject to termination at the copyright holder’s request.
Exceptions to the exclusive rights provided to an owner of copyright are limited and can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Examples of these exceptions include, but are not limited to, the use of a copyrighted work for:
- Private study
- News reporting
It is only in specific circumstances such as these that you may be able to make use of a copyrighted work without the permission of the owner. To read more about exceptions and defenses to copyright infringement, see here.
In almost all other circumstances, permission from the copyright owner is required to produce, reproduce, distribute, or perform their work—regardless of whether credit is properly attributed to the creator of the work.
Understand and adhere to permissions
If you have permission to use someone’s copyrighted work, the use you make of it should not exceed that which was expressly permitted. Permission to reproduce copyrighted work does not constitute permission to perform that same work.
For example, common resources advertising “free stock photos” and “royalty-free music” may contain restrictions applicable to the use of the content therein. Such resources generally offer two tiers of licenses to their customers, with one containing more restrictions on use than the other.
Often, these resources will also expressly limit any and all “standalone” use of images. This restricts licensees from making the original content available to others without addition of value in the form of some modification.
Creative Commons licenses are commonly encountered when searching for content for unrestricted use. A Creative Commons license is a type of public license to a copyrighted work that authorizes its free distribution. Users of content protected by Creative Commons licenses should be aware that these licenses can authorize use to various degrees and subject to various exceptions.
A Creative Commons license may or may not allow commercial use and may or may not allow derivative works (use of the content with modification). For a pictographic explanation of Creative Commons license types and uses, see here.
When in doubt, ask the professionals
The best way to avoid copyright infringement in the digital age is to tread carefully when using and sharing online content. Ask yourself whether the work would be protected if it were found offline, and whether your contemplated use would constitute infringement offline.
If the answer is yes, odds are that it will constitute infringement online as well. If you’re unsure, consider legal advice from intellectual property professionals, like the copyright lawyers at Heer Law, to best protect yourself against allegations of copyright infringement.The best way to avoid copyright infringement in the digital age is to tread carefully when using and sharing online content. Ask yourself whether the work would be protected if it were found offline. #Youpreneur Click To Tweet
Christopher Heer is the owner and founder of Heer Law. He is an intellectual property lawyer, registered patent agent and registered trademark agent. He believes that intellectual property rights add tremendous value to businesses by enabling them to raise capital, build asset value, and grow faster under the protection that these exclusive rights give them.