- · Pictures, articles, videos, and other online content may be protected (essentially “owned”) by someone else.
- · Assume copyright laws apply unless told otherwise—even then assume they still apply.
Intellectual property is a vast area in the law, and it can encompass many forms. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to create copyright laws to protect ideas that are in a fixed form. This can get very complicated and trigger nuanced areas of the law, but copyright laws usually apply to forms of written expression, recordings, drawings, paintings, and other forms of expression that is recorded in some form.
The example I see most often is when people pull images off of Google. Usually the image says, “This image may be subject to copyright law.” People disregard these warnings; they use the image; and then they receive a demand letter from a lawyer telling them to pay $2,000.00. If you used the image without permission, it is likely you are liable. The amount of damages may be in dispute, but who wants to fight that battle? Better yet, who wants to pay a lawyer to fight it for you?
You can see how the same rules apply to written and recorded material.
While I do not purport to be an expert in the nuances of copyright law, I have one simple rule: I don’t use what is someone else’s material without permission.
A related issue is plagiarism. This is using someone’s material and passing it off as your own. It may or may not be copyright infringement. For example, if I were to use a speech in a political convention that was given by someone else without quoting the person or in any way attributing it to them, then that would be plagiarism. Whether it is copyright infringement depends on the situation.
Be careful when you use content created by others. If you don’t have permission, the best rule of thumb is to not use it.