The internet has provided a new avenue to share information, especially for creative works. We now have a worldwide platform to spruik our wares, educate others and promote our businesses. On the flipside, there is now more pressure to create content. We need to populate our websites, social media pages and blogs and of course we all want to stand out. We run webinars and seminars and want to use diagrams, images, jokes and share those wonderful inspirational messages. It is only natural to visit the internet when looking for content. If it is on the internet then we can use it right? Unfortunately its not that simple.
I have assisted a number of creative clients that have had their work used without permission. Increasingly I am advising people on how to protect their work. This is an area that has changed significantly from the days when internet law involved using a celebrity’s name as a domain name. As a business owner, I also understand that there is a lot of confusion about when you can legally use someone else’s content.
In Australia, whenever a work (image, photograph, diagram, music, source code) is created the creator of the work has automatic ownership rights. The creator has the sole exclusive right to use, edit, copy and reproduce the work. No-one else has any rights in the work unless the creator gives them the rights. A creator can use the copyright symbol to tell the world that the work is owned by them, but not including the symbol does not mean the rights don’t exist.
As a starting proposition, if you have found something on the internet or social media and you did not create it, you have no rights to use it, copy it or share it. Often websites have a copyright claim over the entire of content of the site, expressly indicating that any images or content should not be used or shared.
There are things that you can do to use to the content of others without exposing yourself to breach of copyright. This includes seeking consent. I have in fact received messages myself asking whether my blogs can be shared. Consent may be provided on the website itself, often terms and conditions will tell you whether you can use content and to what extent. For example, I source images from several websites where photographers waive their rights and post pictures for free use.
You can purchase images or content from authorised websites. This is the way that a lot of photographers and artists are able to manage copyright by receiving payment for the use of their work. These sites are also charged with managing those copyrights. I have seen several instances where these companies have pursued individuals for using images that were available for sale, but not purchased.
Crediting the source of the image or the creator is another way to avoid breaching copyright. However, generally you would still need the permission of the creator that you credit. A credit does not change the fact that you have reproduced a work without permission. Using a credit may reduce the creator’s inclination to pursue you or assist you if you were unable to locate the creator. For example, I have spent hours trying to track the owner of particular images through the internet and have not been able to. In this situation, if the image is on a website that provides images for free I would credit that website as the source. This does not mean a breach hasn’t occurred, but it shows the world (and the creator if they happen to see) where I found the image.
It does take time to source content legally, and you may not get the exact content that you wanted. However it is not only respecting the law, but it is respecting our creative humans and businesses – would you like your products and services to be taken from you and offered away for free?