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How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

In the age of social media, content creators need to take steps towards protecting their original content and the credibility of their brand. Consider learning about the basics of copyright law and infringement to add another layer of brand protection. Read on to learn more about copyright basics.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

What is a copyright?

To understand copyright, you need to understand that it is different than a trademark or a patent. Remember, a trademark protects a brand or business name, a patent protects an invention, and a copyright protects an original creation. The emphasis is in the word, “original.” The piece of original authorship can live in any medium, from blogs to films.

When we think of content creators and what they do, considering copyright laws becomes of utmost importance. On our podcast episode with Elaine Gonzalez-Johnson, we talked about the visionary steps of creating. There’s lots of information and inspiration for how to spark these creativity. But the next step—especially once we are actually creating—is to think through copyright: copyright law will not only protect our unique creations, but it will also protect creators themselves from unknowingly committing copyright infringement, which can hinder someone’s reputation.

Who or what does copyright protect?

To fully understand this question, consider the “medium” piece to the definition of copyright. Copyright law protects anything you create. Taylor Tieman, Esq. of Legalmiga®, provides a list of what you can copyright. Some include:

  • Artwork
  • Blogs
  • Music
  • E-books
  • Videos
  • Images

Copyright law exists to encourage you as a creator to publicly share original work that comes in multiple mediums. For example, copyright immediately protects your work the moment it is created. It also has to exist in a fixed platform, aka live somewhere. Unfortunately, though, it’s not that easy or simple.

The catch is that if you want to sue for copyright infringement, your work needs to have already been registered under official copyright. No copyright registration means you have no right to sue.

What is copyright infringement?

On the flip-side of this is protecting yourself against copyright infringement. In the age of social media, content is everywhere. However, while it’s easy to re-post, reproduce, or share someone’s work, just because something lives in the internet does not mean it is to be freely used.

You commit copyright infringement when you break this. While every unique, fixed work is automatically copyrighted, only works with the © designator have been officially registered. Authors of works with this designator thus possess the right to bring legal action against someone who has misused their copyrighted work. Misuse can come in the form of reproduction, distribution, performance, public display, or made into a derivative work.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

When you don’t need copyright permission

Works that live in the public domain don’t need copyright permission. Ideas, procedures, systems, and recipes, for example, live in this public domain. Other paths to the public domain include expired works. This happens when the works were not re-registered, or the term was reached: the length of the term of copyright, plus 70 years.

What is the “Fair Use” copyright provision?

When an original work is formally registered and not in the public domain, we need to introduce the concept of “fair use.” This is a provision that exists in copyright law to allow people to use copyrighted material without the owner’s expressed consent. If the work serves to:

  • Teach
  • Be discussed and studied
  • Be reported in the news
  • Or be commented in public discourse

you do not need explicit permission. At the same time, the best practice is to use original work as often as possible. While copyright law has this “fair use” provision, it is a thin line between fair use and infringement.

How to request copyright permission

Sometimes it can be as simple as sending an email or DM. In the world of social media content creation, crediting is a must. Remember, ideally you will be creating original work!

In larger works, you will want to ask for permission ahead of time. The more well-known or published the work, the more you will have to negotiate. In either situation, you are seeking written permission.

Copyright permission process overview

The process for obtaining copyright permission can be summarized in a five steps:

  1. You identify if you need permission
  2. Identify the owner
  3. Identify the rights that you need
  4. You establish contact with the owner
  5. Get this permission in writing

Depending on the size of your project, you could get through this process in a few days! Or it could take months.

Let’s get one thing clear: I am not saying that you, as a content creator, need to double up as a business lawyer. You need to focus on creating the content that matters for you and your audience. But taking steps towards trademarking and knowing the basics of copyright law is key to protecting the credibility of your brand. You should protect anything you’ve created that you feel is at risk of getting stolen or copied – especially if you are making money from it.

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