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Bloggers beware: There’s copyright in that content

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Bloggers beware: There’s copyright in that content

14th June 2011

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The blog is becoming increasingly popular as an Internet-based marketing tool. A blog is different from a corporate website because it allows organisations and marketers to feature daily or weekly posts, create a dialogue with customers and explain the features of their products and services. But bloggers routinely incorporate other people’s works on their own sites by indexing, creating hyperlinks, and posting images, quotes and articles. The fact is that ignorance of copyright law can result in the blogger being sued. Herman Blignaut, partner at intellectual property law specialist Spoor & Fisher, says that with some knowledge of copyright – and a little common sense – you can protect yourself and your organisation.

Because they are interactive, blogs go beyond the corporate website which usually features marketing collateral. Regular updates are handled by the company leaders as well as marketing and PR teams. But the ongoing need for fresh content is one of the challenges of maintaining a successful blog. And that’s where the issue of copyright comes in.

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According to copyright website Benedict.com, “the Internet has been characterised as the largest threat to copyright since its inception. The Internet is awash in information, much of it with varying degrees of copyright protection. Copyrighted works include news stories, software, novels, screenplays, graphics, pictures, Usenet messages and even email. In fact, the frightening reality is that the majority of works on the Net is arguably protected by copyright law.”

That’s the root of a fundamental misconception: many people believe that because something is on the Internet it is in the public domain. That is absolutely untrue. As a rule, most works enter the public domain because they are old and no longer covered by intellectual property rights, like the works of Shakespeare or the music of Mozart. If a book, song, film or artwork is in the public domain, then it is not protected by intellectual property laws (such as copyright, trademark or patent law), so you are free to use it without permission.

But every other work is subject to the same copyright protection that applies to any published book, film, music or software. Because it is so easy to cut and paste text, images, audio or video from the Internet, bloggers tend to overlook this important point.

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Five easy rules for bloggers

To avoid being accused of stealing someone else’s content, follow these simple rules:

1. You may not use a work simply because it does not have a copyright notice
The mere absence of a copyright notice (which is not a requirement) does not mean that there is no protection. Published works automatically have copyright protection, whether expressed with a notice or not

2. You may not copy a work even if you are not making money from it
Making a copy of a DVD you own so that you can watch it while you are away on holiday is illegal. Even though you are not making any income, copying constitutes copyright infringement. Of course, the copyright owner will only be more inclined to take steps against you if they become aware of the fact that you are actually deriving income from the article or image that you have posted on your blog

3. Giving someone credit does not make it legal
There are certain exemptions in this regard. Generally, you may quote somebody as long as you give them credit, but you cannot quote an entire work, for example, nor can you post a sound or film clip on your blog

4. Including the creator's copyright notice will not protect you
The rule is that to reproduce anything, you need to get permission from the owner of the work to do so

5. Don’t copy material just because you can’t find the copyright holder
Whether you are unable to identify the copyright holder, or that person does not reply to your request for permission, you are still infringing the law if you reproduce or even adapt (and render certain other acts referred to as “restricted acts”) in relation to material, or a substantial part thereof.

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