According to the U.S. Copyright Office,
someone receives a copyright when he or she
creates “an original work of authorship.” That
includes plays, movies, photographs, written
works, computer software and architecture.
Ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted. The
work’s creator automatically receives a copyright (registration is not necessary) from the
moment the work is created until 70 years
after the creator’s death. So if you make public
your travel pictures on TripAdvisor, anyone
who wants to post them on another site must
ask your permission. If you’ve posted someone else’s photograph or music or writings on
any website without the owner’s permission,
you’ve broken the law and can be sued.
Social media’s response
You Tube has spent $30 million building
its Content ID system, which automatically
scans the 72 hours of new content uploaded
to the website every minute for content violations. Material that’s in violation may be
immediately blocked, or the rights holders
may decide it’s in their interest to allow it to
run, perhaps with advertising attached.
You Tube is the exception when it comes
to automatic scanning for copyright violations. Sites such as Pinterest and Vimeo
depend on complaints from copyright owners before they take action.
As an added precaution, Pinterest offers
a small bit of code that owners of copyrighted
material can add to their websites; if users try
to post that material on the Pinterest website,
they won’t be able to do so.
Social media sites that allow others to
post material do not have to screen that material for copyright violations before, or even
after, it is posted.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act, websites are not liable for copyright
infringements, and do not have to remove
material unless the copyright owner asks them
to do so. If the original poster disputes the
copyright claim, an appeals process can allow
the material to be reposted if the original complainant fails to back up his or her claim.
And even if you’re successful in blocking
the unauthorized posting of your great photograph of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque
on someone else’s website, by the time you
succeed in getting it removed, it may have
been reposted by another user unknown to
you, and even used illegally for a print ad.
Which is why Kirsten Kowalski, who
specializes in portraits of seniors and children, decided to change her approach.
Rather than policing websites to block
her work, she’s posting her photographs to
get more jobs, as people see her photos and
reach out. “Facebook has become my biggest
marketing tool,” she says. C
© SUJIN JETKASETTAKORN / AGE FOTOSTOCK
Eric Taub writes about the intersection
between society and technology for The New
York Times and other publications.
By Lloyd J. Jassin myths COPYRIGHT
If I give credit I don’t need permission.
Giving credit means you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you are not a
plagiarist. However, merely giving credit is
not a defense to copyright infringement,
which, unlike plagiarism, has legal, not
ethical, consequences. Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of someone
else’s copyrighted material.
The work I want to use doesn’t
have a copyright notice, so I don’t
Not true. Since March 1, 1989, copyright
notice has been optional.
Since I’m planning to use my work
for nonprofit educational purposes,
I don’t need permission.
Not necessarily. The key factor is not the
user, but the nature of the material, how
it is used and whether the new use
adversely affects the value of the original
work. Since even a nonprofit educational
use can undercut the value of copyrighted
work, such organizations are not immune
from copyright infringement lawsuits.
I don’t need permission because I’m
going to adapt the original work.
Copyright law grants copyright owners
the exclusive right to control modifications of their work. If you add a new layer
of copyrighted material to a previously
existing work, you have created a derivative work. If it’s done without the permission of the copyright owner, you may
have violated the owner’s copyright.
I can always obtain permission later.
If what you need is crucial to your work,
it’s better to find out now that it is unavailable. The lack of permission can result in
your work being blocked or the payment
of thousands of dollars in copyright damages and attorneys’ fees if you decide to
use the material without permission.
The material I want to reproduce was
posted anonymously to an online dis-
cussion or news group. That means
the work is in the public domain.
Not true. Neither the ease with which
users can upload or download informa-
tion on the Internet, nor the fact that it is
anonymous, places a work in the public
domain. In fact, the Copyright Act specifi-
cally protects anonymous and pseudony-
mous works from unauthorized copying.
Postings and republications of protected
material, if not done with the consent of
the copyright owner, may constitute
The material I want to quote is from
an out-of-print book. That means the
work is in the public domain.
Not necessarily. Out of print does not
mean out of copyright. When a book goes
out of print it is a temporary state. The
rights generally revert to the author,
which means the underlying copyright
Since the work is in the public domain,
I don’t have to clear permissions.
Not necessarily. Public domain only refers
to the lack of copyright protection. While
copyright is very important, a work may
be protected by other legal theories that
survive after the copyright expires. For
example, public domain artwork, particu-
larly distinctive characters (e.g., Beatrix
Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” illustration), can
achieve protection under trademark law
and function as a logo or source identifier.
Likewise, mere ideas, which are not pro-
tected under copyright law, may be pro-
tected under trade secret or contract law.
Similarly, identifiable people may have the
right to control the manner in which their
name or likeness is used. C
Lloyd J. Jassin is a New York copyright
attorney and Costco member. These myths
are excerpted from Jassin’s informative website (
www.copylaw.com) and, yes, are
reprinted with permission.