Play It Safe: Making Sure You’re Not Committing Copyright Infringement
Copyright infringement is not an easy thing to explain. While it may seem as simple as not using someone else’s work, it’s not that easy. Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and many other organizations, we have the ability to use others’ works – as long as we use it under ‘fair use’ laws. So what does fair use have to do with copyright infringement, and how can you utilize it?
Fair use laws are the conditions in which you can use a copyrighted work without having to pay someone royalties. This includes when you use a copyrighted work for educational or instructional uses, criticism of the work, commentaries on the work, news reporting about the work, teaching on the work (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship uses, and research. This is talked about fully in Section 107 of the Copyright Code (commonly called Fair Use) and is available for you to read at your local library.
Copyright Infringement in day-to-day life
Sometimes, if you’re writing a paper for work or school, or if you are creating a Power Point presentation, you need to use someone’s work that is already in copyright. So how do you use it without committing copyright infringement? All you have to do is ask – the worst they can say is no, right? But, if they do say no, there are several items in the public domain which may help you to finish your project without having to commit copyright infringement.
What is the public domain, and how does it relate to copyright infringement?
Material that is not copyrighted is considered in the public domain – you cannot commit copyright infringement on works in the public domain. These works include things that the copyright has expired on, or is not copyright-able – such as government publications, jokes, titles, and ideas.
So, how do I ensure I’m not committing copyright infringement?
First of all, if you’re going to use someone else’s material, you may want to check the public domain to see if something is suitable for use, instead of trying to use someone else’s copyright. However, if you can’t find something suitable (and you can’t create something yourself), the next best thing (and your only legal course of action) is to find a piece that is in copyright, and contacting the copyright holder.
When you contact the copyright holder, make sure you tell them what you want to use their piece for – whether it’s for your blog, podcast, or report – and ask them if you can use it. You may have to pay royalties, or an attribution in your piece, or a combination of both. The creator may also place many limitations on when and how you can use their material. Follow all these instructions they give you, and you’ll be free and clear to use their work as you want.
Once you have permission to use a copyrighted work, you need to make sure you stay within the agreed-upon boundaries – if you veer outside their agreed terms, you may open yourself up for a copyright infringement lawsuit – which can be nasty, costly, and time consuming. If you’re in doubt, before contacting the copyright holder, contact a copyright lawyer to ensure you’re following the law – and protect yourself!