It’s that dirty word that no one wants to talk about: Copyrighting. The term is engraved in our vocabulary from a young age. Remember in kindergarten when Suzy got in trouble for claiming Tommy’s drawing as her own? Copyrighting is still the same idea, except it can get a little—okay a lot— more complicated. Here are the basics that you need to know to help save yourself from a sticky copyright situation.
According to copyright.gov the definition of copyright is “the form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible means of expression.” The Key word here is “tangible”. Therefore, copyright is a protection of authorship in regards to literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Copyright law does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation. It protects how these ideas are expressed, but not the ideas themselves. Are you confused yet?
In addition, a copyright is different from a trademark and patent because it deals with the expression of ideas, instead of a discovery or brand. A tangible work is automatically protected under copyright law the moment it is created. Voluntary registration of a tangible work within the copyright office is suggested if one wishes to bring an infringement lawsuit court, or for a variety of other reasons.
Now that you know the official definition of copyrighting, you are probably thinking “I am a great person and would never claim someone else’s work as my own. I can probably stop reading this article right now and go make a sandwich.” Right? Wrong.
We face copyrighting infringement every day without a blink. In a world where everything is shared and posted online, where do we draw the lines of what is and isn’t legal when it comes to copyright law? The answer is tricky, and depends on the authors discretion. For example, a home video can (sometimes) be posted to YouTube with a copyrighted song, but downloading a TV show is unacceptable and can lead to a number of negative consequence if caught. It all depends upon what is tolerated by the author of the work.
Music can be downloaded from YouTube for a single individual to listen to. However, one may face serious consequences if they upload songs to a web host for the masses. Spotify, the online music streaming website has faced a slew of infringement lawsuits lately.
In addition, memes have become increasingly popular, and are seen on almost every social media site. Memes provide social commentary and a dose of comic relief. However, they pose a serious copyright infringement if the original rights holders do not give permission to use their work. As seen in a Washington post article, “How Copyright is Killing Your Favorite Memes”, the “Socially Awkward Penguin” meme is property of National Geographic, and their licensing agency Getty Images. Getty Images has begun charging licensing fees to those who use the penguin or have used the penguin image.
Protect Yourself Against Copyright
Now you are aware that you may be a repeat offender of copyright crimes. It’s okay, no need to turn yourself in to the nearest police station. You too can turn your copyrighting ways around.
The first step to avoiding copyright infringement is to be educated. Know what is considered copyrighting, and what are generally tolerated actions. Although an action is tolerated, it can still technically be illegal and have negative consequences.
There are a lot of gray areas in the realm of copyrighting, so often it is up to the authors discretion of what they deem is okay and not okay. To avoid copyright issues, go straight to the source, and ask the author directly if you can use their work. If this is not possible, then the safest thing to do is to not use the material.
Lastly, never use something whether it’s a song, image, literary excerpt, etc., without attributing the author.
For more information on copyrighting, visit www.copyright.gov.
By: Marissa Handerhan, Content Strategy & Communication Intern