Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Copyright 101 for Bloggers—the Basics about What You Can and Can’t LEGALLY Post Online (Part Two)

First, let me announce the winner of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2012. 
The Christian Writers Market Guide 2012
Drumroll please.....Sally Matheny, please contact me (ediegmelson (at) gmail (dot) come) and I’ll get your book in the mail right away!
Now on to the fun...uh...hard stuff.
There is so much information I want to share with you I’m going to divide this up into two posts.  The first today, and the second on Thursday.
So I’m reprinting the quiz here—with the answers—to get us started. Then I’ll go through the issues question by question, giving you the pertinent information.
True or False:
  1. I can legally post any picture on my blog if I link back to the place I got it. FALSE
  2. I can legally use a song’s title in a post, article or book. TRUE
  3. I can legally use someone’s blog post as long as I give them credit and don’t change anything. FALSE
  4. I can legally use music or a song as background for an original video as long as I credit the source. FALSE
  5. I can legally post YouTube videos on my blog or website. TRUE
  6. If I don’t make money off of it, it’s legal for me to use. FALSE
  7. I can legally quote a small percentage of the words to a song in a post, article or book. FALSE
  8. If I don’t have a copyright symbol on my work it’s not covered by copyright law. FALSE
  9. I can legally download photos from Facebook to use on my own site. TRUE (fooled you!)
  10. I can legally pin anything to one of my Pinterest Boards. FALSE
  11. I can legally post a picture of a book cover I recommend or am reviewing. TRUE
  12. Copyright on written works expires 70 years after it was first published. FALSE
Art, ALL art, is copyrighted
Number One: Pictures—photos, sketches, graphics, any kind—are covered by the same copyright law as our written words.

Unfortunately, there is lots of sharing going on over the Internet and it’s not legal. When we borrow photos without permission, even when we acknowledge where we got it, we are stealing. I truly believe that’s not the intent, but we need to educate ourselves on what’s right and what’s not and then lead by example. 
Number Two: Song Titles. Song titles are the ONLY part of a song we may use legally. There is something in the copyright law called fair use. Without boring you by quoting the law, it means that you can refer to part of a work without being sued. Contrary to what some think, there is no set number of words or percentage that makes up fair use. Instead, there are four factors used to define it.
  • the purpose and character of your use.
  • the nature of the copyrighted work.
  • what amount and proportion of the whole work was taken.
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Because of the small size of a song, say compared to a book, the courts have decided that quoting ANY portion of a song, except the title is a copyright infringement. The reason you can quote a title? Titles cannot be copyrighted.
Number Three—Blog Posts. You cannot legally borrow someone’s blog post without their permission, even if you give them credit or link back to it. Now, there are some sites that post guidelines for you to follow to be able to use their posts. But this doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so for another site.
Number Four—Music or Songs. I imagine many of you got this one correct. There has been so much written and so many fines leveed in regard to stolen music, it’s almost common knowledge that you cannot borrow a song or music for your own purposes.
Number Five—YouTube Videos. This one was a little tricky. You can legally post YouTube videos on your site, because what you’re doing is linking, not reposting. Even when you embed videos, they are still linked to YouTube.
Number Six—Profit. Whether you profit from borrowing someone else’s work has no bearing on the legality. 
Bloggers are Generous...to a Fault
I have an opinion about all the borrowing that is happening around the Internet. I may be an optimist, but this is my personal opinion. 
I think a lot of bloggers are generous folks...to a fault. They frequently offer their own work to others for free. With this mindset as a foundation, it doesn’t always occur to them to think of what they’re doing as stealing—they don’t see other’s borrowing as stealing, after all. 
That said, I applaud the generosity with our own work. But, we should also be willing to guard the uniqueness and value of the work of others. 
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Do you have any thoughts—or questions—about copyright issues?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Be sure to read the rest of the series here:
Copyright Part Two


  1. Re: photos. I am a little confused. I use photos from the "free" photo sites a lot. These sites say that you can use the photos and that they are copyright free. Is this not true?

  2. Oooh. I think I've boo boo'd a time or two. I try to be very careful but I've used a line or two from a song on occasion. I have a blog post waiting for publishing because I've sent a request to publish to the publisher with an explanation of how/why I will use it. Still waiting on that response.

    I think you're right about bloggers being generous people, we just need to remember to be generous with our own stuff and not someone else's. :)

    Thank you for posting this. It's getting printed out and posted on my office board!

    Oh, I'm with Karen. I use iStock photos all the time on my blogs, and some from free sites. Am I OK?

  3. Great stuff, Edie...and so needed! Thank you!

    Another thing: Several people have made the mistake of thinking if a photo is on Google Images it's free to be used. That is not true! You must track down the original owner--which I've done and is NOT easy to do--and request permission, or pay to use it.

    Google Images is simply a collection of images from blogs, etc, but even if that person gives you permission to repost their blog post or use the photo, you have to know if THEY own the copyright to that photo. If they're using it illegally, you're using it illegally.

    There are several truly free sites that give permission to use their photos, but their rules for permission are specific and we must follow them to the letter. I personally love www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net, www.ChristianPhotos.net, and www.FreeImages.co.uk. Between those three, I can usually find something that will work.

    Thanks again, Edie. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to copyright. And the idea that it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission won't work in court. :-/

  4. I appreciate this information. I don't use images from free sites, because I worry whether they are truly free to use or not. I'm going to check back for an answer to Karen's question. Thanks.

  5. This was helpful. I'm surprised about the inability to use lines from songs. If 70 years isn't enough time to make it public domain, what is?

    "Don't sit under the apple tree, with ...." uh,oh.

    Thanks for posting the information.

  6. Eeek on the song lyrics. I've always thought fair use applied here, but you're right about songs being so short that it constitutes a large percentage if you quote a long part.

    So, if song lyrics are used in a book or something, does that mean the publisher had to get permission to use them? Does that usually involve paying a fee?

  7. Thanks Edie, you've cleared up a LOT!

  8. These are all really great questions! I'll take them one at a time and try to help clear up the confusion.
    Karen asked about "free" sites. Free sites can be a really good resource, if you read the fine print. And Karen, I think you are.
    But the warning with free sites it this.
    Free does NOT always mean copyright free. It can mean, no charge, but have complicated linking requirements. So be sure to check their guidelines carefully.

  9. Okay, now onto songs. This one is tough for me because it seems a little unfair. But then again, I'm not a song writer.
    Sherri, I recommend you rewrite that blog post. You probably won't hear back about your request. They either don't want their song used in a blog post, or assume you can't afford the fee they require.

    Lindsay asked about songs in published books. Yes, the publisher had to get permission. And, in all probability, they also had to pay a hefty use fee.

    June brings up the good point about the 70 years rule. This was a little bit of a trick question and I'll go more in-depth on Thursday, but 70 years is just a STARTING point for your research. Songs can have their copyright renewed. There are also some special exceptions that apply depending on circumstances. And in some cases, the 70 years is begun AFTER the death of the writer, NOT the publication date.

    Once again, we have to do our homework and spend time researching what can and can't be used. It's a pain, and that's why a lot of publishers don't even allow songs to be used. It's also why some authors make up their own songs.

  10. Just a couple of more comments. First a horror story, I've met two self-published authors who have had to pull their books because they illegally (accidentally) used a song and couldn't afford the fees and penalties.

    Finally, unless you know the song is in public domain, don't use even a line from it. I've seen it get people in a LOT of trouble.

    Thanks for stopping by and be sure to ask more questions if I wasn't clear about something!

  11. So, in order to use photos for free, you have to contact the photographer?Vonda mentioned a few sites that have photos that are truly free to use. How can I know otherwise? Or should I just stick to those three?

  12. Ellen, the sites Vonda mentioned are good ones, but no matter what site we use, we have to read their guidelines and follow those. In many cases it involves giving the photographer crediit and linking back to the site.

    The only place I know of where you can use photos without any restrictions is Microsoft clip art. www.microsoft.com

  13. Edie -

    Can you refer to a song? Like... the one that comes to mind is a Brad Paisley song like "Online". Can you say something like. "I was so much more comfortable in my internet persona. Just like the guy in the Brad Paisley song."

    Or something to that effect.

  14. Carol, absolutely!

    As a matter of fact, in my book, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home, one of my contributors referred to a song from Fieval Goes West. I took out the lyrics, quoted the title and described the setting. It worked perfectly and no copyrights were violated.

    I think it's important to realize that as writers, we're word experts. Sometimes that means working harder to make something work. AND, when we do, the excellence shines through.

  15. Edie, thanks again for great information. I agree that many Christian bloggers are generous with their own material. But unfortunately, the rest of the world has rules to follow. And I agree that we want to be excellent in our dealings with the secular world. :)

  16. Hi Edie,

    About copyright online: I'm a writer and I have published a lot of my poems/songs/characters/fragments of my short stories online. Since my blog is public, do I have any right over those publishing's if someone else uses it and I find out? I'm still working on finding out how to take out the copyright for my writings.

  17. This is valuable stuff! I had some right but I was surprised at the ones I had wrong.
    I appreciated reading the comments too!
    Thanks Edie!

  18. More good questions today!
    To "Exposed2Create" You already own the copyright on everything you put out in tangible form. This means if it's printed - online or a typewriter or by hand, you own the copyright. You can register it, if you wish, but it's costly and time consuming and unnecessary. Especially with your things published on the Internet, it's fairly easy to prove the case that it was yours before someone else's because of the dates of publication.

    She brings up a good point. You all need to know that because your work is exposed to the public - either though the Internet or some other way, it's NOT considered part of the PUBLIC DOMAIN. Public domain is a legal designation that refers to something that has been around so long it's become part of the culture and is no longer owned by anyone. Now that's my synopsis of the definition, so the legal terms and jargon are more complicated, but essentially that's the gist of it.

    Thank you all for commenting and stopping by - tomorrow I'll wrap up this subject!

    Blessings All - E

  19. I forgot to comment because I left here and went straight to my blog. I had quoted the entire lyrics to a song in one post. Yikes. In three or four others, just a line or two but still needed changing. Thanks so much! I think I'm all fixed for now, till I learn something else. : )

  20. I quote from people's blogs all the time and link back to their posts, because I think they want the exposure. They get pinged when I link back and they can easily contact me and ask me to take material down. I want to continue doing this because I want people to do this for me. I want people with blogs to introduce me to their readers by quoting me.

    I have had people take entire posts and reprint them without giving me any link, and sometimes without even giving me credit. That is not nice and I don't that to other people. But now, even though I know it's illegal to quote two paragraphs from a ten paragraph blog post, I still do it. I think in this case, to love my blogger/neighbor I have to break the law. But maybe if we want to be quoted we can post a creative commons http://creativecommons.org/ license. If we get the word out that this is the way to encourage people to quote you, that might work.

  21. Well, gosh. I wrote a whole, long comment on your contact form instead! No idea what all I said either. :(

  22. This is a great post--had to go take down some song lyrics on my blog after I read this!
    A quick question: is there an easy way to find out what is and is not part of public domain?

  23. I have a blog entitled Messages of LFaith for You, where I post messages from Oswald Chambers's devotional book, Dr. Charles Stanley, and Max Lucado. I find their messages on Crosswalk.com each day. It says that permission has been given to print their work there. Am I to assume that I can copy their work then, and copy their references and be okay? I've been doing that for about a year. jean-oathout.blogspot.com

  24. Sally, I'm sorry to hear people have "borrowed" your work without giving you credit. As far as wanting to give others good exposure, there are many reasons someone won't want their work copied without permission. Even if we think it's in their best interest, we don't have the right. Your heart is in the right place and your generous spirit is obvious in your comments, but I would counsel you to let others control their own destiny, right or wrong.
    Audra, I got your comments and they were really good!
    Christy, thanks for stopping by. As far as determining whether or not something is in public domain, you can usually find the answer by googling the question. For example, type, "Is the song Old MacDonald part of public domain?"
    Jean, The permission they are quoting on Crosswalk.com is for them and them only. If you want reprint permission, you must contact the publisher and request it also.
    Blessings All! E

  25. Edie, here's the exact link to the free Microsoft art/images:

    Thanks so much for this excellent post.

  26. I second everything that was said about song lyrics. I used copyrighted lyrics in my first two novels, and the process of obtaining permissions was painful. The permissions and fees are the responsibility of the author rather than the publisher, by the way. One permission/fee was for a 7-word snippet.

    Unforeseen issues: When I sold more copies of my book than in the original agreement (yay!), I had to renew the permission and pay additional fees. Also when my publisher was negotiating book club/large print/foreign language editions, the contracts were almost held up because of the lyrics - the permissions and fees would pass to the sub-publisher, and they didn't want the hassle. Only when we removed the lyrics were the contracts able to go through.

    Moral of the story: I will never use copyrighted lyrics in a novel again!!!!

  27. What sites do you get your pictures from?

  28. Mary Jane, I use a lot of my own pictures, but the majority I get from Microsoft Clip Art. Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, E

  29. It's comforting to know we can quote the Bible as much as we want without getting into legal trouble (at least in this country). Many songs by Christian artists contain Bible verses in their lyrics. I think if we wanted to use them, we can then write something like this: "He hummed that catchy tune quoted from Isaiah 6:3"

    1. This is actually inaccurate. It depends on which version of the Bible you are quoting and how much of it you are quoting etc etc. Here's a link with more info: https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-copyright.html

  30. It's comforting to know we can quote the Bible as much as we want without getting into legal trouble (at least in this country). Many of my favorite songs by Christian artists contain direct quotes from the Bible. If cross check the quote in the song with how it's worded in the Bible, we'll avoid quoting the artist as they may artfully reword the verse. We can then write something like: "He sang that catchy tune pulled from Isaish 6:3: Holy is the Lord ..."

  31. This is so helpful! I've got a lot of things going on in my head about writing. I'm attending a writing class and my lecturer is always against my works. Sometimes it feels like she's criticizing my work alone and not for the whole class. Now I know more of some writing dos and don'ts, and that my lecturer is guiding me at the right track. Thank you!

  32. Can I quote a chores of a lady antebellum song "hello world" for a blog post talking about how the different parts in the song inspired me to go from broken into surrender? If I quote it and then give them credit is that under the fair use law?

    1. Sarah, if the song is in public domain you can use any and all of it. If it's not (you can check by googling the song title and "public domain" - but without the quotation marks), you need to be careful. Citing your source and giving credit has no bearing on the fair use part of copyright law. The idea behind fair use was to allow usage - outside of copyright protection -of a small portion of a work without damaging its integrity. If you're walking your readers through the song, it's going to be debatable as far as whether it's legal or not. I am not an attorney and this isn't meant as legal advice, only my personal opinion. Blessings, E

  33. I have been viewing photos, clip art, and fonts for a blog I am creating. You are partially right. Just because it's not copyrighted, does not mean that you can use it for anything you want. Sometimes, the creator may give you copyright for personal use, but does not give you permission to use it for commercial use. Then, there are times the creator has released all rights and you are allowed to use it as is. Some sites have said you can get around copyrights, etc. by making a change to the photo, clip art, etc. It's really important to read the fine print on these sites. So, if you see a photo, click on the photo. It should lead you to further information and please, read it all. Each picture is different.

  34. Can I use someone else's book title as the title of my blog?

    1. Yes you can. Titles cannot be copyrighted. Blessings, E

  35. My wife was translating some Ed Sheeran lyrics into Japanese for her blog and didn't realize the copyright stipulation. Personally, I think the restriction is asinine, provided you credit the source. But it is what it is. :(

    I'm curious how much you can get away with. Like, can you get into trouble for saying "all you need is love" in a blog or novel? And what if someone else posts lyrics as a comment on your blog (I just did, sorry!)?

    I think it's awesome that you still answer people 8 years after this article was posted. :) I presume the information is all relevant today, right?

  36. What about musicians playing their version of a song? For example, an instrumental piano piece of Oceans on a blog site. Is that allowed?

  37. I don't understand why songs cannot fully be used in blogs. If you cite the artist, you're not claiming the work...what's the problem? In addition, people now will find out about the song, and listen to it. The artist still gets all credit, even promotion, because of you. What's the big deal

  38. It does seem, at first glance, that this law doesn't make sense. But the fact is, we can't use what we don't own, no matter how well-intentioned our actions. It's not about claiming ownership, it's about who gets to decide how something is used. I didn't make the law, but that doesn't mean I don't have to follow it. Blessings, E