Top Ten Myths of Copyright, Plus 1

Top Ten Myths of Copyright, Plus 1

It’s OK to use someone else’s image if . . .

1. I change x% of the work.

Nope. See derivatives

2. I don’t charge anything.

Nope. Just because you didn’t charge any money doesn’t negate the fact you stole.

3. I’m using the photo for non-profit, educational purposes.

Nope. “Non-profit” or “Not for Profit” is a tax status, not always a business philosophy.

4.  I include the creator’s copyright notice.

Nope. All that does is let everyone know exactly from whom you stole.

5. I removed it from my website when the copyright holder objected.

Nope. The copyright holder is still damaged. It’s like plunging a knife into the copyright holder’s chest and then saying, “Whoops” and pulling out the knife. The damage is still done.

6. I asked permission and didn’t get a response.

Nope. If I asked to “borrow” a Ferrari I saw on the street and didn’t hear a reply, that doesn’t mean I can take it for a joyride.

7. I can’t find the copyright holder.

Nope. If you can’t find the photographer, their estate (if they’re dead), or even know who did the photo, the photo is an “orphan work” and can’t be copied—unless an Orphan Works Bill passes Congress in the future (see Orphan Works sidebar in book). Then this becomes a slightly different answer. You would then need to do a “diligent search” for the copyright holder.

8. The image does not have the © symbol or say “copyright.”

Nope. Not required since 1976. But if you do have it, you help defeat any claim of “innocent infringement.”

9. It’s posted on the Internet.

Nope. Just because one person ripped off a photo doesn’t give everyone else permission to rip it off.

10. The image is in the public domain.

Usually nope, but not always. Actually, it’s a trick question. The qualifier “always” trips it up. There may be other rights tied in, like trademark rights.

11. The big one, the urban-legend-sized myth that will not go away: If I place my work in a sealed envelope and mail it to myself, I’m protected.

Big nope. That just proves you mailed yourself something. A judge will laugh that out of court. If a lawyer recommends you do that, you probably need to find a new lawyer.

Excerpted from The Copyright Zone: A Legal Guide For Photographers and Artists In The Digital Age, 2nd Edition by Edward C. Greenberg and Jack Reznicki © 2015 Taylor and Francis LLC, All Rights Reserved

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1 Comment
   Joshua Pink said on April 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Readers here might find value in a recent book from Michael Donaldson called Clearance & Copyright. It is aimed at the independent filmmaker but I’m sure that a great deal of if would apply here too. I really don’t think you can find a better all in one, reliable resource than this book.

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