Copyright FAQ’s for Bloggers

Another Blog that I publish is called “Intellectual Security” and is information related to Intellectual Property (IP) topics such as copyright, trademark and patent law. Most of the content is Press releases but occasionally I come across interesting articles, so I write to the authors and ask for permission to republish. I met the attorney and IP expert John Farmer in 2004 in this way and now he’s provided 2 excellent articles for that site.

On a side-note if you have any doubt about the value of IP or the significance it plays in our modern world you need look no further than Microsoft, Google or Yahoo and the collective wealth they’ve generated, both for their founders and also the millions of investors and partners, to understand that the age of ideas is well beyond it’s dawn – it’s now mid-morning.
John B. Farmer is a partner with Leading-Edge Law Group from Virginia and writes a column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Recently he granted me permission to republish an article from November 2006 about acceptable guidelines of using copied content on Blogs.
Copyright FAQ’s for Bloggers
Blogging isn’t a copyright-free zone. Here are tips on how to deal with the copyrights of others when blogging.
Q: Do I need permission to block quote from someone else’s work, such as from a news article or book?
A: You don’t need permission, but getting permission takes care of copyright concerns. Without permission, you have to employ copyright’s fair use doctrine to determine how much of the targeted work you can quote legally.
Q: When I block quote from someone else’s work without permission, how much of that work can I quote?
A: There is no bright line or even a quantitative guideline to follow.
The fair use doctrine allows you to use some part of a copyrighted work without permission for some purposes. Even copyright lawyers can’t agree on the precise contours of what is fair use, and the analysis is case-specific.
Most blogs engage in a type of use of another’s copyright property that could be fair use, such as commentary, parody or satire.
For commentary, don’t quote more of the targeted work than necessary to make your point. Only rarely can you quote all of someone else’s work to comment on it.
Also, consider whether the extent of your quotation makes reading the quoted work unnecessary because you will reproduce the part the public will seek. If it does, your use probably isn’t fair.
Paraphrase instead of quoting when you can, because copyright doesn’t protect ideas or pure facts, just original expressions of them.
Q: If something on the Internet doesn’t have a copyright notice, does that mean it’s in the public domain so I can use as much of it as I want?
A: No. All the copyright notice does is put the world on notice of the author’s copyright. The effect of the notice is to create afloor on the kind of damages the author might collect. An author owns a copyright on a work he creates even if he omits the copyright notice, and even if he doesn’t register the copyright.
Q: What attribution do I have to give to my source for a block quote or picture? Do I have to post a link to the source?
A: Copyright law does not require that you cite your source or provide a link to it. If you are using content by express permission, that permission might require such attribution.
Some contend that a concept called “moral rights” requires attribution to the author even when you don’t get permission and rely on fair use rights. While that contention is legally shaky, it’s good blog etiquette to cite and link to your source.
Q: Do these limits apply to government documents?
A: The federal government cannot assert copyright rights to works its employees create, so you can reproduce these entirely. In some cases, the government can own and assert a copyright transferred to it by a private contractor. State and local governments can claim copyright ownership although they rarely assert such rights.
Q: Can I post a copy of a picture or graphic I found elsewhere on the Internet?
A: Technologically, there are two ways to do this: (1) copy the image onto your server and serve it directly to the Web surfer, or (2) use “in-line linking” to cause the Web surfer’s browser to pull that image from another site directly into a frame you create on your Web site. Following the latter method makes the picture look like it comes from your site when it actually is loaded into the surfer’s browser from someone else’s server.
Copying the image onto your server could be copyright infringement. It isn’t clear yet whether in-line linking avoids liability. A recent trial-court decision involving Google approved of in-line linking, but the case is on appeal and is attracting lots of friend-of-the-court briefs from opposing viewpoints
Q: How much trouble am I in if I accidentally cross a copyright line?
A: It depends on the nature of the copyright owner. You might pay substantial monetary damages if the author feels motivated to sue you and if the author registered his copyright either prior to your infringement or within 90 days of when that author first published his work. That author might be able to recover damages up to $150,000 in the case of a willful copyright infringement, or even higher damages if the author can prove them.
Still, this outcome is unlikely in most blog copyright cases. A lot of material posted on the Web isn’t copyright registered, and that removes a lot of the money damages threat. Also, the wronged author would have to decide to pay substantial attorneys’ fees to go after you when the recoverable damages might be zero. In many instances, the wronged author will just complain and the courteous blogger will assuage the author.
By John B. Farmer
John B. Farmer
Leading-Edge Law Group, PLC
804.343.3221 — direct voice
804.363.4599 — mobile
jfarmer @
Three James Center
1051 East Cary Street, Suite 1130
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Post Office Box 1996 (23218)
804.343.1131 — fax

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