Thursday, 19 September 2013

Some observations about blogging and copyright

Prompted, as I mentioned yesterday by a post from Andrew 'Loki' Saunders in the Bloggers Wargames Group on Google+. I suggest you read it, and the comments: I'm deliberately not paraphrasing the contents here, as I'd like to ensure any search queries on the matter get directed to his blog.

I am not a lawyer, so please don't consider this post legal advice, or sue me if, by following your interpretation of my interpretation, someone else sues you :D Your country's copyright law may be subtly different to mine.

That said, let's talk about both your copyright and other people's :)

Copyright, in general, subsists in any expression of an original work. You can't copyright an idea, but you can copyright any expression of that idea in any material form including digital, at which point you own all the rights to it, unless and until they expire or you choose to give some or all of them away. This therefore means, technically, that anything on the Internet is copyright its original author, and you may not copy it (beyond the necessary magical copying that happens behind the scenes to allow you to view it) without their permission.

Let me just repeat that one. Just because it's on the Internet and you can see it, it doesn't mean you can copy it and use it, unless the author explicitly or implicitly (by a blanket statement) gives you permission.

Regular readers may notice the recent appearance of a Copyright page on this blog. It's a Creative Commons licence, in fact, which says, in a nutshell, you are free to use or modify my work for any non-commercial purpose provided you credit me. All other rights are mine, but note that I may choose to grant you (for example) commercial rights if you ask and we reach an agreement.

It's dead simple to set up a page like that one - in fact, the Creative Commons folks provide you with copious links and sample wording, and it costs you nothing. We are a friendly community, and it's simple courtesy to respect someone's rights (and hey, they get a link from you, and will probably return the favour, so we all win). Make cool stuff, share it, give credit where it's due. Simples!

Other things you should be aware of:

  • Amazon book cover images used for the purpose of driving traffic to Amazon and made by their Link To This Product tool implicitly have permission. I would suspect that technically they don't for other uses.
  • Flickr, Google Images and Wikipedia, among others, make it easy to find out the copyright/use status of an image, and what you need to do/say in order to be able to use it. It's not hard to add a caption in Blogger with the appropriate stuff.
  • A lot of national archive photos from many countries are free to use.
  • A photo of a copyright work for review/illustration/discussion purposes is covered under fair use. 
  • Straight digital copying of art from a copyright work for review etc probably isn't - it's certainly a grey area, and I have a couple of images on this blog I need to get OKs for :D
  • (In fact, I have a few pictures generally I need to check out!)
  • Some material is genuinely out of copyright, and fair game. Note that the typical period is 70 years, which takes us back to 1943, usefully!

But, once again...

  • Just 'cause it's online, doesn't mean it's free!


  1. Useful and helpful summary Mike, thanks.

    I must add that 'in theory' bloggers should also add a 'copyright line' at the bottom of posts, identifying them as the author of the work.

    While not really worth the trouble for short posts, if you're writing fiction, scenarios or researched work, it's an added layer of protection should someone attempt to pass off what you've done as theirs and treated it as if it was.

    I use Creative Commons Licences on my own blogs. I've noticed a couple of charts I've created have made their way elsewhere... without credit, but as they weren't being used commercially I wasn't too fussed.

    If I use commercial images of figures, I tend to link the pic directly to where I got it from, as well as linking in the caption... It's not 'legal' but I'm providing free advertising in return for non-profit use.

    No complaints so far, but potentially I'm open to legal action, so I try not to do it a lot.

  2. Excellent post and a good prompt for many of us. I've been thinking about copyright issues for a while now, but, being one of the Procrastinator's Olympic Team, I haven't done anything about it. James' issue over the image is probably a classic example and one which is often forgotten in that it's not necessarily what you have to say that's attractive or useful as what images you've posted.

    While I'm pretty much of the same attitude as Jim's "wasn't too fussed" if any of my stuff is 'borrowed' (however unlikely that may be), I think we owe it to bloggers in general to make the effort on the copyrite issue in order to set a standard. There are a huge number of ideas generated within the blogosphere which could be tempting to a magazine editor or even a budding contributor.

  3. Great post Mike and a good reminder to all of us bloggers that we may be infringing others rights, albeit unintentionally and we should recognize that fact. I'm involved in copyright issues as part of my day job and the only thing I'd add is that copyright is used to describe artistic works primarily ( art, music, literature) and extends for 70 years following the authors depth.
    If you're interested in a good example of copyright access your Googlefu and search for Great Ormond Street and Peter Pan!

  4. Out of interest, if anyone feels the need to add a copyright line at the end of their posts, hold down 'alt' and use the numeric pad to type 0169 to get the © symbol. Add your name and the year and you're done. I usually use a smaller font when I do it so it's less obtrusive.

    It also works in MS Paint, so you can put it unobtrusively on your photos too.

    © James Hale 2013.

    1. Alternatively, Blogger lets you add a copyright notice at the foot of every page using the Atttribution widget :D

    2. Hey! Some of us are barely capable of putting a post up... don't go confussing things with yer fancy book lerning!


  5. So how about hotlinking?

    If I do a blog post about, say, X-wing (which I have done), and I want to use a picture of the upcoming ships from FFG?

    First, the obvious solution is to download the picture from the FFG website, and use it on my blog. ANd I do know that's a breach of copyright unless FFG gives me permission to do so.

    The second solution is to insert an IMG tag which links to the picture on FFG's server. Technically I haven't copied the picture, but some servers do not allow hotlinking because it can affect their performance (bandwidth stealing). But is is a breach of copyright? I do not know. Anyone?


    1. I don't hotlink for the reasons you've described. I do download and re-post, as I said above... technically it's wrong, but it's almost the same as them having an ad on your blog.

      Unless you totally trash their product in your text, I doubt a C&D notice will be winging its way to you any time soon. If it does, you just take it down.

  6. I liked your copyright page so much I copied it :-)

  7. And remember that most juristictions allow you to make limited use of copyrighted works for purposes of criticism or review.

    In the UK the exact phrase is "Criticism, review and reporting current events".

  8. Good article Mike. As someone who is taking legal action against a firm for using my commercial work without permission, I can assure you the whole thing is a minefield. Often the copyright issue boils down to 'loss of earnings' caused by the breach of copyright and that can be difficult to prove :-(

  9. As a small time blogger I don't see any company telling me to not use their artwork. Should a company not want me using their artwork to promote their game then by all means I would remove it, they would have to just tell me directly. :-)

  10. Finally got round to following the excellent advice on here AND pinched your copyright page - THANKS!


Views and opinions expressed here are those of the commenter, not mine. I reserve the right to delete comments if I consider them unacceptable. Unfortunately due to persistent spam from one source, I've been forced to turn on captchas for comments.

Comments on posts older than 7 days will go into a moderation queue.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...