Copyright and the Web – who stole my content?

One thing that people often forget when they are posting material on the web – in blogs, on websites, or even in web-based learning materials – is that copyright applies just as much on the Web as it does elsewhere. Just because a piece of text or image is on the Web does not mean that you can take it and use it wholesale for yourself or others.

It’s a major issue in all sorts of contexts. There was a recent row between commercial music video publishers and YouTube, for example, as Rory Cellan Jones reports today on the BBC . The Guardian (and others) report that  piracy of the new X-men film Wolverine has caused problems for Hugh Jackman & co., and a columnist was fired for reviewing a pirate copy of the film.

Copyright law is complicated because different countries interpret their own laws in their own ways, and the Web can be seen everywhere, but there are are some elements of good practice to follow:

  • © ALL text, photos, images and other multimedia (such as audio and music) are the copyrighted property of someone, unless they have been placed by their creator in the public domain. If in doubt, assume someone owns the copyright.
  • Do not use whole posts, articles or pieces of text without permission.
  • Even in a password-protected area such as a forum, community or VLE, where only your members or students will see it, copyright still applies.
  • “Fair use” is not necessarily legally binding but is regarded as acceptable: a quote from academic paper or book, or a section of a blog post which you comment on.
  • Reposting the whole blog post belonging to someone else is not acceptable without permission, even if you link back to them
  • Any amount of fair use should include a link back to the copyright holder – but check that the site you got it from had the permission in the first place!
  • Other people’s content should not be placed in your site in a way that suggests it was yours (newspapers have been sued in the past for placing other papers’ content in a frame which displayed it as though it were on the infringing paper’s site).
  • Fair use for a poem is particularly difficult to define as a poem is so short – forum members often post a favourite verse, unaware, but community moderators need to watch out for this kind of copyright infringement.

Sourcing images has particular issues:

  • Many websites – particularly image websites – have terms of use for their images – read this carefully. Often it is acceptable to use images on a personal website but not a commercial one.
  • ® ™ Trademarks – if possible acknowledge these if you use them.
  • If you buy images, be clear about what you are buying – are you purchasing the copyright outright or the right to use them? For the Dragonsville website, for example, we commissioned the main images exclusively (the copyright belongs to Kids on the Net), but with them came the right to use some of the other dragon images non-exclusively (the copyright remains with the artist and he can grant permission for other people to use those images as well as us.)

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a copyright answer to the choice between a restrictive “all rights reserved” (eg traditonal music publishing) model and the free for all which takes away the rights of creators such as musicians and writers who need to earn a living. Creative Commons is a digital movement that creates a range of private rights to create public goods: creative works set “free” for certain uses.

“Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Their licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.”

For example,

Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0

You are free:

  • to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work

Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution. You must give the original author credit.

Copyright thieves have all sorts of excuses for stealing other’s property. Darren Rowse over at problogger once  listed some of the excuses he’d received personally, including “But I just don’t have enough time to write my own content for all 279 blogs that I run!” and “We just installed a new plugin that promised to give us new content without lifting a finger, I didn’t realize it was using other people’s content.” Some people in countries without strict copyright laws have stolen content and stated that copyright doesn’t matter to them (until, of course, they need to make money from content they’ve created themelves…).

Many of us take content off the Web without thinking about it, such as downloaded songs, films and TV programmes.  It is up to each of us how we square it with our consciences. Personally, I think there are enough good free and legal ways to watch excellent films and TV and read content for far longer than the few hours a week I have spare to do it!

Do you have a copyright-related story to share?


  • Ok I do have some stuff that I would like to be copyright protected. They are just the beginnings of a small novel that I am writing. i would like to post it on my blog, but I do want to make sure that none of it gets copied and stuff (not that I am too famous or anything, lol)

    Could you guide me through the steps to get a small copyright for the same?
    Steps would also be appreciated like this is where I have to apply and what conditions will have to satisfied etc.

    Any help would be appreciable :)

  • @Rakesh Nair, There is no such thing as a procedure to “register” copyright. The cpyright is yours because you have written it, at least in the Uk (I am not an expert on international copyright!). However, if you post excerpts on your blog there is no guarantee that someone wil not plagiarise it. You have to decide if you could afford and if it would be worth it to pursue someone through the courts. Also for some publishers the fact that it’s been online marks it as “previously published” – then again others publish whole blogs in book form, so it depends on the publisher.

    It is so easy (although illegal) to “borrow” digital text that if you really want to protect it – don’t post it.

    My recommendation would be to stick to small excerpts, or to post it under a Creative Commons licence and take the risk.


  • Thanks Helen for replying so promptly.

    Alright, I’m a complete newbie when it comes to this stuff. I have a couple of questions.

    I’ve heard of the Creative Commons license. Now I just want to know how to incorporate the license in my stuff. Do I just register with these licensing guys and then write a note under my posts saying that the content is protected by the Creative Commons license?

    Or do I do it in a completely different way? Any help would be appreciated. Sorry for being such a bother.

  • @Rakesh Nair,

    Check out the Creative Commons website particularly how to l;icense your work fill in the form