Understanding Copyright Law Is The Hard Part

    January 9, 2005

In the past two weeks I’ve posted two commentaries about copyright – copyright myths and the inadequacies of copyright laws.

In each, I argue that current copyright laws are inadequate protection of anyone’s intellectual property rights in the online world because it’s so easy to just grab someone else’s work. Equally, bloggers and website owners often don’t know what they can do or not (although knowing what’s right and what’s not, combined with a healthy dose of common sense, isn’t too hard to figure out).

So where do you stand when you copy-and-paste material from a blog or website and use it in your own? At the very least, you can use your common sense such as the guidelines included in each of the two previous posts I mentioned.

About.com has Four Basic Questions about Copyright and Weblogs, a Q&A session with intellectual property expert Kimberlee Weatherall in Australia and law blogger Eugene Volokh in the US.

It’s a useful article, even if a bit concise, and which includes this gem of an answer to one question:

“Q: Do copyright laws hold on the web and are they applicable to bloggers?

A: Yes, acts done online can be copyright infringement. When you make a copy of a copyright photo, for example, and you put that photo on your website, you are making a copy (an infringement), and you are (in US law) ‘displaying the work publicly’ (another infringement). What is more, if you are in the US, and you do these things, you infringe US copyright law. But, if your website is accessible in another country, depending on how that country limits the application of its copyright law, you may commit an infringement there, too. Copyright law applies only within one country – I can only infringe US copyright in the US. But (a) most countries have copyright law now, and ALL members of the WTO must have it, and (b) a network of treaties means that Australian authors get protection in the US, and vice versa, all over the world. So if I, in Australia, take a photo, and you, in the US, put that photo on your website, you might infringe my copyright under US law in the US, and under Australian law in Australia.”

So, that’s all clear then, ok?

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.