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I’m constantly surprised over what people think of copyrights, even those who should know better. I know a personal friend of mine, an editor who thinks he can get away with whatever articles he makes me write. No he can’t, because he doesn’t have a contract which says he’s free to do so.
When I speak to clients about posting articles to their websites, I have often come across questions such as, “why don’t we add that awesome magazine article we saw last week? That’s bound to get more traffic and readership.” Or maybe, “that blog has great articles, let’s try them out”. Such blunders are called copyright infringement, folks and it’s punishable by law. Well, you won’t be getting the electric chair but the harm will be in getting sued, or far worse – you’ll pay a heavy fine.
10 Things You Should Know About U.S. Copyrights
Let me summarize some pointers to help you get the basics about copyrights:
- Most copyrights aren’t registered! As soon as a person creates something – an article, a song, composes tunes or whatever – a copyright automatically falls into place whether he or she has applied to it or not. The creator owns their work regardless of whether he or she has applied for copyright or not. Why? If the Library of Congress housed all copyright records of EVERYTHING so far, it would be the size of Alabama.
- If you don’t spot a copyright notice, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s yours to take. The Law doesn’t insist on notices.
- In the United States of America, certain copyright infringements are treated as felonies.
- You can’t steal something and rehash it as your own. If found to be a derivative of the original content, you are liable to be found guilty of copyright infringement in the eyes of the Law.
- Copyright is on a give-receive basis. If I did write an article and you lack a contract where it’s legibly written that my content was a “work for hire”, you solely have the right to add it to your website. I can still use my content for other clients.
- If someone does have a copyright on his articles, you just can’t copy and paste it on to your websites without his or her permission.
Well, there are exceptions to the above rules. These are quite important when you are out scouting for quality content, so bear with me:
- If it’s fair, you can use it. Copyright laws allow some loopholes such as picking small chunks of content for your usage than the whole bunch.
- If it’s old, you can use it. As all things, copyrights do expire. For example, under current laws, anything before 1921 is copyright free.
- If the government creates it, you can use it (mostly). Government churns out content on a frequent basis. You are free to quote and use almost all of the articles and stuff. Some might remain in the “copyright” territory, but generally most of them are free.
- Finally, you can use it if it’s donated. Authors generally feel chivalrous to release some of their content after a certain time period. So if they donate their content to you, you are free to use it.