A Creator's Guide to Using Copyrighted Material from the Internet
As a creator, the pain is personal. Spending hours creating beautiful content with a painstaking eye for detail, paired with beautiful photography that can run into hours, only to see it appear on someone else’s site without credit. My fellow creators, including many of you reading this who make internet content, share in this pain. But internet piracy is not always as maliciously intended as it sounds.
What is Copyrighted Internet Content?
First let’s understand the concept of copyrighted material. All content on the internet is protected by the same kind of copyright laws that protect non-digital content like physical books, art, music, architecture and more. While there is a large amount of legalese involved in copyright laws (which is not the intent of this article), some things are worth noting:
Copyright laws are not global, each country sets their own rules.
Most countries of the world have clear collaborations with other countries on the use of copyrighted internet content from their country.
Unlike patents and trademarks, which need paperwork; a copyright comes into effect the moment the creator creates something original - writings, images, videos, music, poems, recipes, movies, television shows, etc.
Why is it Important to Share Internet Content Fairly?
Internet or digital piracy is generally due to ignorance and the user being unaware that such laws even exist. People who ‘steal’ someone’s internet creation don’t realise that it is almost the same as walking into an art studio and plucking an original painting off the wall, making a copy and then putting it back on the wall.
There are some very good reasons why it is beneficial for the creator and user to share content in a respectful and collaborative manner. And the most important one starts with the abundant availability of online content in today's social media driven environment. Sharing original content, or samples of paid creations and links, helps it go further and get more views which is a win-win for both.
On a more technical level, link sharing is a highly encouraged practice since search engines reward the use of good quality incoming and outgoing links on a website, which helps them provide more relevant search options. For creators and users, cross linking of snippets of their content leads to higher impressions on their site. Not to mention, more authority in their field when more popular sites link in with them.
Best Practices for Internet Content Sharing
With that mind, it is worth learning and adopting some content sharing practices as a creator and a user.
The simplest step you can take for sharing free and paid content is to link to the original site directly. Website owners (including this writer) will receive a trackback request and approve it. In fact, personally, I often take the trouble to visit the site and thank my fellow content creator for linking to my site. This creates a new kind of partnership opportunity. If you are uncomfortable with any link usage not resonating with your site message, most websites will be happy to take it down.
Credit the Creator
A good quality internet content creator will spend hours behind what might finally appear to be yet-another-video-or-song or just-a-recipe. Other than the obvious benefits of expressing mutual admiration and opening up future collaborative opportunities with each other; crediting the original content creator is just the fair thing to do.
As a creator for a decade with two running websites, I’ve had success with clearly posting this message in a prominent place on my site, with an easy to follow format for sharing or using my content. This allows fair and mutually respectful sharing practices and will prevent most people from sharing without crediting the creator. (Notice the use of the word ‘most’ since posting a message won’t prevent everyone.)
If you use images, videos, music or parts of someone’s original content, especially if it is paid content, get the permission of the creator! It’s the polite thing to do, and once again, in a world filled with constant digital creation, it is important to respect each other's original works.
Using Paid Content
There is an ever growing number of options for purchasing copyrighted content for legal use on your site. Personally, it's the default option for long-time creators like me. These copyrighted images and videos are available for use on any site for a small price and sometimes, even for free with the possibility to make a donation to the creator. It’s a good idea to check them out if you need images, music or videos to accompany your original content.
What To Do if There is a Breach of Copyright?
In an ideal scenario, users would always follow the best practices. But sometimes, ignorance and a lack of awareness can create uncomfortable situations in a breach of copyright. A creator’s best course of action is to write to the site administrator (most sites have a contact me page) requesting them to take the necessary action as per your site rules. As a user, if a creator writes in requesting you to credit the creator or take down their content, your best response is to comply, if not for the fear of possible legal action, then at least out of basic decency.
In my early days as a creator, any misuse of my copyrighted material would lead to indignation and a feeling of unfairness. With the wisdom of a decade of content creation under my belt, I look at the use of my original content as simply flattering.