Copyright Laws and Third-Party ContentEverything you post on your blog and social media accounts doesn’t have to be 100% original or “organic” content, especially if you aren’t a professional writer. Many professional writers such as journalists, bloggers and consultants understand that posting an excerpt of their writing on your blog or posting links to the content over social media promotes more page views for their content. However, there are certain rules that must be followed when it comes to reposting and utilizing third-party content.

Understanding Copyright Law

Before you begin using third-party content, it is important to have a clear understanding of the U.S. Copyright Law. Copyright provides the original author of a creative work the exclusive right to profit from that work, although it is important to note that copyrights are often passed on to a third party, such as the original author’s employer, publisher or another legal entity. Although copyright law grants an exclusive right to profit from a work, this does not mean that there aren’t legally-recognized exceptions that allow others to repost or reprint the work without permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright Exceptions

Under the doctrine of Fair Use, certain parties can reprint or repost copyrighted material “to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.”, although many who believe their use falls under Fair Use are often mistaken. Other exceptions include the use of copyrighted material for parodies, which is also often mistakenly applied and doesn’t often apply to professionals.

Limited Repost Right

In regard to the professional use of copyrighted material, one exception is most commonly applied – you have a limited right to repost and use excerpts of a copyrighted work when providing “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” You don’t have to be a professional reporter, teacher, or university researcher for these exceptions to apply to you, but it does mean that you have to create your own content in order to introduce or frame the excerpt in such a way that you are legitimately criticizing, commenting, reporting or educating your readers or followers.

Public Domain vs. Creative Commons

Creative works posted to the Internet are not necessarily copyrighted by the original author or creator. Some work is in the public domain, which means that no one can or ever will own a copyright on the work in question and you are free to use it as you please. Other work is copyrighted but released by the original author or creator under a copyright license, such as one of the popular Creative Commons licenses. This means that while the author or creator still retains ownership of the work, they have extended certain rights to the public as dictated by the license, such as the right to modify the work or the right to repost it, with or without attribution.

Copyright Is Automatic

If you are trying to determine what on the internet is copyrighted and what is not, it is safe to assume that practically everything written, published, or posted on the internet is copyrighted due to the fact that copyright is automatic. As soon as your blog post gets posted, it is copyrighted. You legally own that piece of content and can seek out royalties if you discover that your content is being used without the proper acknowledgement. Of course you can always gain more rights for your work if you register your content with the U.S. Copyright Office, but legally, your work is copyrighted as soon as it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. So next time you want to use a third-party source and are unable to properly identify or contact the author or publisher, it is a good idea not to repost or use the content in anyway.

In our next blog post, we will discuss the proper methods of reposting, excerpting, modifying and linking to content on your blog and social media.