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I would consider myself an expert in many areas of blogging, but when it comes to blogging law, I leave it to the professionals.
Today we have a detailed post on copyright for bloggers by lawyer and blogger Mariam from freelanceandmarketing.com. Mariam’s site is full of legal tips for bloggers and she has great legal templates for bloggers in her shop (these are what I use here on Moms Make Cents).
Without further ado let’s turn the time over to Mariam to learn about blogging copyright guidelines!
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF COPYRIGHT FOR BLOGGERS
Blogging is a form of expression that takes place online. Blogging can be done for pleasure or for business.
Many times bloggers don’t concern themselves with the legal side of things until they have to. This “have to” usually means that the blogger in question is in legal trouble-either someone else is violating their rights, or they are violating someone else’s rights.
Copyright is a big and important topic when it comes to blogging. Many areas of blogging actually intersect with Copyright, so every blogger absolutely must know at least the basics of Copyright law.
Copyright for bloggers can come up when using photos or images from the web, or including someone else’s video in your blog post, writing blog posts, quoting someone else, and much more.
BLOGGING AND COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT
Copyright infringement is a sensitive topic for bloggers. They can either be the infringer (whether intentionally or accidentally) or they can be the victim of infringement.
First, let’s understand what is Copyright. I discussed Copyright and what is usually covered under it here.
However, for those of you who want a quick introduction to it, Copyright is a form of law that protects certain intellectual property rights from the moment that they are “fixed in a tangible medium.”
This means that they are not just ideas, but actually, exist. You can jot down your original work and it will have protection.
Note that Copyright protection extends to both published and unpublished works.
Mere ideas are not protected, so make sure you put an effort toward realizing that idea if you want protection.
What does Copyright infringement actually mean?
It simply means that there is an original work that someone has Copyright for (meaning certain individual holds the Copyright and owns that Intellectual Property (IP)), and another person makes use of that Copyrighted work without permission and may or may not profit from it.
Making use of a Copyrighted work can mean several different things. It can be that the infringer used a photo/image that they had no rights to. Or they used a portion of Copyrighted work that does not fall under fair use. It can also be something as simple as using a quote by a famous person without the proper grounds.
Copyright infringement is a sensitive issue for bloggers because as bloggers, you spend a lot of time on creating original work that will get ranked on search engines, shared on social media platforms, bring you traffic and email subscribers.
Every piece of content that you create serves (or should serve) a specific goal. So when someone steals from you and uses your protected content without permission, it’s a very personal offense, and it can be a hard pill to swallow.
The opposite can also be true, however. You might be the one who uses a protected work without the right to do so. Now, whether you did it intentionally or unknowingly, only you can tell.
To be well aware of Copyright guidelines, to know what is allowed, and more importantly, what is not allowed, continue reading.
BLOGGING COPYRIGHT GUIDELINES
As bloggers and entrepreneurs, knowledge of Copyright law is almost mandatory. You don’t have to be a lawyer, and you don’t have to know every single detail about it. However, even a basic idea and knowledge will serve to keep you away from trouble.
What is Protected Under Copyright?
Copyright is a Constitutional law that protects your IP rights. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, It protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”
Copyright protects many different original artistic works or creations:
- Writings-books, articles, blog posts, poems, journalistic pieces
- Visual arts-photos, images, plays, performances, paintings, etc.
- Videos-movie, trailers, other videos
- Music-songs, music, soundtracks, etc.
- Design-statutes, software, website design, etc.
Remember, as I mentioned in the beginning, Copyright only applies to a work that is fixed in a medium. This means you can’t Copyright your idea and methods, but you can Copyright the work you create out of that idea.
What’s Not Protected Under Copyright?
Knowing what’s protected under Copyright is important. However, in my personal opinion, it’s more important to know what’s not protected.
There are several instances of work that Copyright does not apply to:
- Names & titles
- Website names
- Short phrases
- Any work created by the government
- Fashion in general (referring to an individual article of clothing)
- Recipes (ingredients)
- Ideas and systems
- Mere facts (reciting facts as is, i.e. ingredients in a recipe), and much more.
Knowing what Copyright does not protect can also save you headaches and unnecessary stress.
For example, if you’re a recipe or food blogger, and someone else creates a recipe consisting of the exact same ingredients as your recipe (let’s say this person copied your recipe ingredients word by word, even the order of the ingredients is the same), you can’t accuse them of Copyright infringement (even if that person visited your website before).
Ingredients are merely facts, you can’t Copyright them. Your cooking directions, if unique and original, do get Copyright protection, but not the ingredients you listed.
This basic knowledge about what’s protected and what’s not will help you in the future to determine if someone is infringing on a protected work.
COPYRIGHT PROTECTION: AUTOMATIC VS. REGISTRATION
Copyright protection happens automatically from the first moment your original work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression…” See 17 U.S.C. § 102. This means from the moment your work stops being an idea and is actually the thing you intended it to be, it has Copyright protection.
For example, when you write original blog posts, create beautiful designs, take photos, create music or videos, you get automatic Copyright protection.
Registering Your Work
If you’re thinking about why you should bother registering your work if you get automatic Copyright protection, you’re not the only one.
However, registering your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office (or in whatever country you’re in), has several substantial and necessary benefits.
Registering your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office means you have an official certificate showing that you have Copyright protection.
If you ever send a Cease and Desist letter to someone who is infringing your Copyright, and you include your Certificate for Copyright registration, you can be sure that your infringer will think twice about not taking your letter seriously.
Moreover, if you wanted to stop someone from profiting from your work by filing an injunction in court, then you would need to have your work registered before you can file anything in court.
Seeking any kind of legal resolution through the court will require you to have your Copyright registered. Copyright law had some important updates on March 4, 2019. I’ve discussed these updates and their significance here.
Many people used to be able to fill out the application for registration, send it in, and go to court to file an injunction. Many of the courts adopted this “application” approach, whereas long as you filed your application with the U.S. Copyright Office, you could pursue relief in court.
However, the updates from the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the “application” approach is not valid. If a person wanted to file any kind of relief or injunction with the court, that person must have proof of actual registration.
This means you send your application for registration to the U.S. Copyright Office, and wait the required time for the U.S. Copyright Office to process your application.
The required waiting times vary depending on your method of filing. If you filed online, it takes 1-7 months averaging at 4 months.
If you filed via mail, then it can take one month to eighteen months averaging at 7 months. This means that you cannot file for an injunction in court if you haven’t previously registered your work with the Copyright Office until you get your application processed, which can take 4-7 months.
During this time, the Copyright infringer can continue to profit from your work and hurt your reputation.
So even though registering your work is not necessary to get Copyright protection, I highly recommend doing so if you have something worth protecting that others might infringe upon.
I will most likely not register my Copyright for a blog post, but I will register a Copyright for an online course content that I charge money for. So it’s really up to you how you want to proceed. As long as you’re armed with information, you can make your decisions.
CONCLUSION: Copyright For Bloggers
Knowledge about Copyright for bloggers is essential for making some day to day decisions. You don’t have to be an attorney to know the basics about a law that has a big impact on blogging.
Copyright is a big topic and it will require an entire book on its own to talk about every aspect of it. This post is meant to introduce you to some preliminary information about Copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office is a good place to learn about specific issues and questions that you might have.
Please note, that even though I am an attorney, I am not your attorney. This is for educational and informational purposes only.
Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, and found it valuable, please comment and share it with others.
Mariam Tsaturyan is a licensed and practicing attorney in the United States. She now spends whatever free time she has blogging and helping other bloggers and online solopreneurs to be legally compliant, run their website and business the right way. You can learn more by visiting https://www.freelanceandmarketing.com.