Monday, 25 September 2017

When and How Can I Use Copyrighted Material?

By Iola Goulton

I’m following up from last week’s article on copyright law by discussing when and how authors, bloggers, and other creators can use copyrighted material without permission.


As you read this, please note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. There is a lot of great information about copyright, but none of it is legal advice, and a lot of it is written purely from a US standpoint (which means it's relevant, but it's not the end of the story). 

To get legal advice, you pay a lawyer licensed to practice in your state or country. 

When Can I Use Copyrighted Material?

In my research, I've found three instances where authors and bloggers can use copyrighted material:

  1. When the material is not under copyright
  2. When the copyright holder gives permission
  3. When the use falls under the doctrine of Fair Use

When the Material is Not Under Copyright

Public Domain

Not everything is covered by copyright. Works which are not under copyright are considered to be in the public domain. This includes works published in the US before 1 January 1923, or works by authors who died more than seventy years ago (although this “life plus seventy” rule is lower in some countries).

Facts and Ideas

Facts and ideas are not covered by copyright, but the original expression of those facts and ideas is. However, it's still a good idea to disclose the source of your facts (especially in the modern era of fake news).

Government Publications

Many government publications can be reproduced without permission in many circumstances. US government publications are public domain in the US, but copyright outside the US. Many Commonwealth countries use Crown copyright, although the specific regulations in each country are different.

In Australia, the Crown holds copyright to anything first published under direction or control of the government. Legislation and other “prescribed works” may be copied and sold, as long as the sale price doesn’t exceed the price of copying.

In New Zealand, all work produced by government departments and MPs as part of their work is copyright to the Crown. Legislation and certain other documents do not carry any copyright. Logos, emblems, or trademarks can’t be reproduced without permission, probably because that could lead to “passing off” (e.g. the scam emails with official logos claiming you owe money to a power company you don’t use).

Material covered by Crown copyright can be reproduced free of charge without permission, as long as it meets these three criteria:

  • Reproduce the material accurately
  • Don't use the material in a derogatory manner or a misleading context, and
  • Acknowledge the source and copyright status of the material

These make good guidelines for sharing any material produced by someone else, whether under copyright or in the public domain.

Creative Commons

Some work on the internet is covered by a Creative Commons licence—the best example is WIkipedia. This means people can copy without permission, although they should still give the correct attribution. Copying without attribution is plagiarism. There are several types of Creative Commons licence, and you can find out more at CreativeCommons.org/.

When the Copyright Holder Gives Permission

Creative Commons and Crown copyright are effectively forms of the copyright holder giving blanket permission for creators to use their material, as long as creators abide by specific rules. Bible translations are subject to similar terms, as I mentioned last week.

For everything else, creators need written permission from the copyright holder … unless their copying falls under what the US government refers to as “fair use” and the UK and New Zealand governments refer to as “fair dealing”. It’s too much to cover in one blog post, so I’ll cover fair use in my next post.

Meanwhile, let’s look at one more important question: how can we use copyright material?

How Can I Use Copyright Material?

Get Permission

If you want to use copyright material for commercial purposes, seek written permission from the copyright holder in advance, or ensure your use is covered by fair use/fair dealing (which we’ll discuss in my next post).

Identify Your Quotes

Make it obvious what is a direct quote by:

  • Including the quote in quotation marks.
  • Changing the look of the quote by using a different font, a different font colour, or a different font style (e.g. bold or italics).
  • Separating the quote from the main text by indenting it or placing it in a box.

Not identifying quotes is plagiarism—passing off someone else’s work as your own.

Identify Your Source

This is easy on the internet—you just need to add a hyperlink to the relevant article or blog post. It’s a little harder in a paper document, but that’s why Word includes a References section, so you can easily add captions, citations, footnotes, and endnotes.

Provide attribution to your sources even if they are out of copyright—passing someone else’s work off as your own is plagiarism. It might not be illegal in your jurisdiction (although it is in the US), but it is unethical.

Quote Accurately

Ensure your quotations are accurate—don’t change the meaning.

Keep Quotes Short

Keep your quote as short as you can while still making your point. The longer your quote, the less likely it is to be considered fair use or fair dealing.


For more information on copyright and fair use in your jurisdiction, ask your favourite internet search engine. No, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, but here are some of the trustworthy source I found:

Government Sites

Copyright New Zealand
Australian Copyright Council
Copyright law in the USA
UK Copyright Service
New Zealand Intellectual Property Office

University Sites 

Harvard University
Stanford University

Not-for-profit Sites 

Creative Commons
Plagiarism.org

Individual blogs and posts from lawyers or publishing professionals

The Passive Voice Blog
Susan Spann
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

If you’re still not sure whether you can copy something … don’t.



About Iola Goulton


I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at www.christianediting.co.nzto download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
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5 comments:

  1. Thanks again, Iola. Much appreciated. It makes perfect sense to be very very careful and no sense to go merrily tripping through this potential minefield.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there are plenty of places to trip up. It's a cliche, but better to be safe than sorry.

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  2. Iola, excellent post! Thanks for sharing your research on copyright and tips on how to avoid potential copyright breaches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are lots of excellent resources online to help us avoid breaching copyright, but first we have to know what we don't know.

      Delete
  3. Thanks Iola. It can be tricky to navigate sometimes. Bookmarking your post for future reference :)

    ReplyDelete