Thursday, May 24, 2007

To copy or not to copy - what is the law?

12.5" x 9.5", pastel on Rembrandt pastel board
available for sale at the Fine Line Artists Exhibition in Ontario, Canada in June 2007
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
People often assume that because information is readily accessible on websites, it can be copied or reproduced. This is not the case. Anyone wanting to publish material posted on social networking sites, or other sites, needs to check the site's terms and conditions to see who owns the material and whether it can legally be reproduced. (Alice Gould, 'The blogosphere, the law and the printed word' Media Guardian 23.4.07.)
Regular readers will be familiar with fact that last month individual blog posts on this blog were copied in virtual entirety. The spammers were obviously oblivious to the law or were reckless in flouting it. They certainly weren't reading the copyright notice on this site! I've been taking a bit of an interest in copyright and digital issues ever since.

I'd love to reproduce an article I read last month in the Media Guardian in its entirety - but I can't - because of legal restrictions. If you're writing a blog or otherwise putting your own material into the blogosphere, I'd highly recommend you bookmark Alice Gould's article "The blogosphere, the law and the printed word" for reference purposes. Alice Gould is the intellectual property partner at commercial law firm Wedlake Belland. The article was published on April 23rd 2007 and can be read in full if you register with Guardian Online. It neatly summarises some of the things a blogger needs to know about copyright law and what you - or others - can publish on the internet.

What follows is my interpretation of some of the key points relating to copyright derived from various authoritative websites on the internet, (with my comments in parentheses).

In essence
  • you cannot copy what you like simply because it's on the internet and accessible. Copyright law applies to the internet and blogosphere and those who publish on it.
  • if you want to copy you need to check first with the publisher who owns the copyright to the material.
  • you cannot assume that fellow bloggers / forum members don't mind their work or their e-mails being copied; material should not be copied or reproduced without the author/creator's consent
  • don't assume that the copyright provisions (or lack of them) of your country apply in the same way elsewhere (a lot of work has been done over the years to try and harmonize provisions but there's still some way to go. )
  • 'fair use' provision (within the legal definitions of some countries) provide some scope for copying without permission (reviews and educational use can potentially be 'fair use')
  • where permission is not obtained and you have a legitimate and legal reason you can only reproduce without permission if "less than a substantial part" has been copied. (Bottom line - your blog post cannot be 'scraped' in its entirety without your permission. Your new 'watch me work' painting video cannot be reproduced in its entirety on someone else's site. The critical issue for me of blog posts being scraped is that it can separate the material from the original copyright notice which indicates the status of the material. Some people reserve all rights - and some grant limited permission to copy. You can try and limit the scope for an article being scraped by only publishing a shortened version of it. Also try posting a copyright notice every time you post details of an image. After the event ask the website/blog owner to remove it if it concerns you. If they don't respond or you can't locate them then you can serve a proper notice on others to get it removed - a topic on which I will write further based on my experiences last month)
  • if material is copied (where this is legal):
    • it MUST give full attribution to the original author (some are very precise at to how attribution should be made.)
    • it MUST NOT be distorted
  • the law relating to privacy and films and videos on the internet is very complex (Remember 'ignorance is no defence'! For me this comes into the category of 'don't even go there')
  • you can avoid claims for copyright infringement by asking the author/artist/creator for permission to copy. (Don't be afraid to ask people for permission. Lots of people are happy for their work to be reproduced as long as you ask permission and then make it clear that they produced it. When asking for permission be clear why you want to use the material and how it will be reproduced. If somebody asks you you might give written permission on the basis that it must be attibuted to you and it can be used one time only as requested. I always file all permissions I give.)
I'm not a lawyer and this is not in any way a definitive statement of the law as it relates to copyright. If you want professional advice you need to find somebody properly qualitifed to advise you.

Having said that, there's a lot you can do to find out more for yourself. If you're concerned and want to know more I suggest you check out the article, search on the internet for relevant sites (some of which I have listed below) and check out the terms and conditions concerning copyright on the sites on which you publish your work. You may also want to explore the use of Creative Commons Licences for your material and work.

Finally, for my and your further reference, I keep a number of links to websites relevant to copyright and intellectual property in the relevant section of my squidoo lens "Art Business: Resources for Artists" and will update this as I find more.



  1. I knew I wasn't anybody in the blogsphere until the spammy comments started coming in, but according to, I'm still not good enough to be plagerized.

    They do have good taste though, don't they?

    I'm sorry somebody did this to you Katherine. Hopefully it won't continue.

  2. Great post Katherine. Copyright is a subject we bloggers should take very seriously and this post gives timely advice and great links to further information.

    You continue to be a mine of useful and interesting information. Thank you.

  3. Thanks Lisa and Lesly

    And thanks for highlighting - I;ve not come across that before. Looks like it's worth imvestigating

  4. The doorway is a wonderful pastel, BTW.
    Thanks for the thorough brief on copyright, Katherine.


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