9 min read

Everything You Need to Know About Using Copyrighted Materials


Andrew Moran
Professional Writer & Journalist
Contributor
copyrighted materials
shutterstock

Do you think Creative Commons means free for grab? Do you think author attribution means you can simply utilize the content without permission? If so, there is a lot you truly do not know about copyright. 

The Internet has afforded millions of users to easily and freely access millions upon millions of different types of content. Everything from images to videos, from graphics to articles, we have an unprecedented level of access that has never been seen before in the history of the world, and this is something that we tend to take for granted every time we open, click and load a webpage. 

Over the years, many myths have been created pertaining to the right to use copyrighted materials, trademarks and other intellectual property on the Internet. Whether it's a website owner or a YouTube creator, many of us are rather unaware in regards to what we can or can't use. This is rather troubling for all of the parties involved: content creators and content users. 

Governments all over the world have been attempting to reform their outdated laws in order to truly enhance the rights of both companies and content creators. Despite pushback, intellectual property and all that comes with it may be bolstered with updated legislation and regulation. 

Whether it is Fair Use or Creative Commons, there is a lot we need to learn about copyright. 

For websites, it essential that they understand things like trademark, copyright law and infringement. Otherwise, they could be impacted by the consequences of such actions. 

Before we proceed, it is vital to understand the difference between copyright and trademark. 

What is the Difference Between Trademark & Copyright? 

Copyright is targeted more towards artistic and literary works, like books, articles, videos and paintings. A trademark is something that protects stuff that defines a company brand, like a logo, word or photograph. 

Let us take a look at the basics of using copyright materials: 

The Risks of Using Copyright Materials 

Many of the young Internet users today likely first became acquainted with copyright in the early 2000s. This was when downloading music through such platforms as Napster, Limewire and Imesh was prevalent. With the rise of illegal actions, news reports flooded the airwaves, lawsuits were filed and online users were warned to stop downloading content and sharing it with others. 

Fast-forward to today, and the act of illegally downloading and using copyright materials remains ubiquitous, though we have smartened up quite a bit from the days of Napster. 

One of the biggest culprits of using copyrighted materials without permission are websites. 

In the quest to publish as much content as possible, whether it's for design purposes or to entertain visitors, website owners neglect the fact that they can't use some of the content they have attained in one way or another. Thus, they will face the ramifications from these risks. 

Enforcement of copyright laws isn't perverse, but you can still be caught in violation. When you are found to be infringing on a copyright then you could potentially face a lawsuit for copyright infringement. You could face monetary penalties upwards of $50,000 for each violation as well as paying for the other party's legal fees. Also, you could even be charged with criminal penalties for the more severe violations. 

It is true that a large majority of content creators do not sue individuals for using their materials without their permission. However, if they discover you have done this and request you take it down then you should immediately abide by this request. It's just common courtesy to do so. 

With that being said, there are many large artist organizations, such as the MPAA and the RIAA, that regularly monitor copyright infringement. If they come after you then you could come into serious legal trouble. 

The Risks of Using Trademarked Content 

Prior to getting into the risks of using trademarked content, it should be noted that you do not need permission to use a trademark if it is for editorial or informational purposes or if it is used for a comparison of products. 

Using trademarked items can be a lot trickier, particularly in today's highly globalized economy. First, whenever you're writing about something that is trademarked, you should also integrate the commonly known ®, TM or SM symbols. Second, if you're using a logo for commercial purposes then you must seek out permission from the company. Third, there is such thing as a trademark parody, which is allowed if it doesn't compete or confuse and is actually a parody. 

If you are caught using trademarks on websites without permission from the owner then you can suffer the same types of consequences as using copyrighted materials without permission. This consists of both monetary and criminal penalties. 

Website License Agreement

This Agreement is made between the Licensor and the Licensee. The Licensor grants to the Licensee a licence to use certain web pages.

How to Protect Your Copyrighted Material 

As a content creator, there are numerous steps you can take to protect your copyrighted material online. These protections will ensure that your work is not stolen or misattributed by another party. You have allocated an immense amount of time and resources into your work so shield it from the unscrupulous or the ignorant! 

Here are four ways you can protect your copyrighted material: 

Licensing is Key to Defend Your Work 

Indeed, you may not protest to the idea of having your content distributed, but you may do this as the creator can demand certain terms. The solution is a Creative Commons license, which can develop a bridge between your work and someone who may wish to use it for something specific. 

It should be noted that a Creative Commons license serves as agreements between you and the other party and showcases that work is protected under copyright law. You can determine if you wish your work to be used commercially but with attribution or used without any monetary gain. 

A Creative Commons license provides some leeway and is the most reasonable remedy. 

Be Sure to Block Copy & Paste 

By using certain types of scripts, you can block users from simply copying and pasting your work. A simple search on Google will present a list of scripts or body tags to incorporate into your work so that someone can't just lift your work through the power of Alt C + Alt V. 

You Can Also Block Right-Click 

A simple addition of Basic JavaScript can prevent a visitor from right-clicking on a website. It is true that blocking the right-click function won't stop certain individuals from accessing your content, but it can prevent the average undetermined person from saving or copying content from your page. 

A Simple Watermark May Suffice 

If you are a digital artist then a rudimentary watermark may suffice.  

Whether it's a logo or a digital design and you're spotlighting your work on a website, the safest and best method to stop your creations from being stolen is a watermark. Now there are two routes you can take in this endeavor: 

  • Digital Watermark: this installs data about the owner and usage rights of your content and enables you to track those who may have decided to lift your materials. 
  • Graphic Watermark: this is a transparent and conspicuous logo or tag that blocks a specific part of your work, which will make the theft of your art less alluring. 

These four measures can offer you security of your trademark and copyrighted material. 

License to Use Copyright Material

This agreement is used when the Licensor grants to the Licensee a license to use, reprint and publish certain material in return of the money paid by the Licensee.

Tips to Use Before Using Someone Else's Work 

When you are a website owner or a startup, you may have no other choice but to use someone else's work since you are not an expert in writing or digital design. Therefore, you may attempt to use someone else's work, hoping that it is not copyrighted or have a trademark attached. 

However, this is the worst road to travel on because the risks far outweigh the potential rewards. 

Here are five tips to incorporate into your strategy of using someone else's work: 

Always Conclude That It's Protected 

Simply put: when in doubt always come to the conclusion that the clip art, the video or the news report is protected by copyright. This means that you must tell yourself that you shall not be a culprit of infringement. Always assume that everything in the online world is protected. 

Just Seek Permission to Use the Content 

After you have come to this assumption that the content you're interested in using is protected by copyright law or trademark rules, you should proceed to simply seek permission to use the content. You may be surprised to find out that the artist may decide to permit you to use the content for free as long as they are appropriately attributed. 

It should be noted that if they reject your request then you must abide by their wishes. 

Remove Unauthorized Material from Your Website 

If you were impetuous when you first launched your website and you decided to utilize a wide array of content without receiving permission then you must remove this unauthorized material. By doing this, you will prevent any complaints or lawsuits by the creators or organizations. 

Look Into Claims Made by Content Creators 

So, your website has become a behemoth and you generate tens of thousands of views per day. As the website grew, you may have made the mistake of using someone else's work without their permission. It just so happens that this same individual submitted a claim on your website suggesting this. 

You should not dismiss the complaint but rather you must investigate it immediately. If it turns out to be true then apologize to the person and inform them that you will be taking it down as soon as possible (which should be right now). We all make mistakes from time to time, and they will likely sympathize with your position. 

Did You Read the Click-Wrap Agreements? 

Stumbling upon some freeware or "royalty-free" materials, you decided to copy the content without any authorization. In all likelihood, you failed to read the terms and conditions of the click-wrap agreements before you clicked "accept." These agreements will state that you are not permitted to distribute or copy the content for an intended use without permission. 

Fortunately, you may have gotten away with this error once or twice, but be sure that you will actually thoroughly peruse the click-wrap, or "Read Me," arrangements moving forward. 

By incorporating these five tips into your business model, you can avoid legal hassles down the line. 

Copyright law, trademarks, fair use, Creative Commons and other related terms can come with the utmost confusion. Unfortunately, you are unable to plead ignorance if you are found guilty, whether by the content creator or by the court system, of copyright or trademark infringement. 

As both a website owner and a content creator, it is your responsibility to understand the laws in place, what practices are allowed and how you can protect yourself. Indeed, a business may be in China or an artist may reside in Germany, but that doesn't mean you don't have to follow the rules and regulations, and perhaps even common courtesy, in today's hyper-connected world. 

When it comes to copyright and trademarks, a little bit of common sense can suffice. 

Copyright License Agreement

This agreement is used when a Licensee desires to obtain the rights to use portions of certain material owned by the Licensor.

Andrew Moran Professional Writer & Journalist
I am a full-time professional writer. Prior to my self-employment, I worked as a reporter for Digital Journal covering the politics beat and The Toronto Times reporting on the city’s entertainment scene. I currently write mostly about business, marketing and finance.
I am a full-time professional writer. Prior to my self-employment, I worked as a reporter for Digital Journal covering the politics beat and The Toronto Times reporting on the city’s entertainment scene. I currently write mostly about business, marketing and finance.

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