March 16, 2015

Clarifying Copyright--Fair Use, People!

I read a post about an author who had learned the wrong facts from her publisher about copyright. She was told that she couldn't use other people's photos without copyright permission. Then she felt upset when someone copied her photo. The person may have copied it under fair use (I don't know the full case).

Copyright law delineates where and when you can copy someone else's work. It is to protect the consumer and the owner. Fair use tells you when you can copy: criticism, comment, news, teaching, scholarship, and research.

You give credit where credit is due whenever you source something. It also depends on how much of the work you quote. You need permission from the owner for other purposes. If you've purchased something, then you may have permission to alter it or use, say a photo, for commercial purposes.

Here are some common misconceptions: photographers claim to own photos that you paid them to take. Actually, those photos belong to whoever paid for them. It's called work for hire. I do work for hire all the time and what I wrote belongs to whoever paid me to do it. (The terms in the contract will tell you if you have any future copyright.)

If you significantly change something into a parody, you created a new work. You did not infringe copyright.

There is a growing trend to reduce copyright restrictions by creators. Some people put their work into the public domain, or have a creative commons license. Public domain means anyone can copy the work with few restrictions. You can even use some of it for commercial purposes. I use public domain photos on this blog. Many offer freebies to grow their audience and then offer other products to sell.

The laws surrounding copyright have become more complex over the years. Some laws, especially with technology, contradict each other. You can create backup copies of your movies, but DRM software on originals prevents copying. Breaking the DRM is illegal, but owning a backup copy is legal.

Some lawyers, politicians, and corporations muddle up fair use so you think you can't ever copy. No, you can copy for certain purposes. Know your rights as a consumer and artist!

P.S. I'm not an expert, so research the facts for yourself. And don't think you have to be a lawyer to get it.