Just because an article, image or video is posted online doesn’t mean that it’s free for all to use. Rules governing what is and is not ok to copy still apply to the digital landscape, just as they apply to any other form of media or publication. Online copyright is an important issue and shouldn’t be ignored.
Here are my top ten facts that you need to know about copyright on the internet.
1. Your work is covered!
Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates an original piece of work that demonstrates a degree of skill or judgement. This includes web site design, web site content and web site imagery. Software and computer programmes are protected as literary works and databases are covered for 15 years from publication.
2. Taking ownership
Ownership of the work is usually granted to the website’s creator. However, this is usually transferred on receipt of payment if the work is produced by a third party.
Make sure everyone involved understands and agrees to the ownership - only the owner of the work can bring infringement proceedings to court.
3. Mark your work
Although there’s no legal requirement to include a copyright symbol on your work (because it’s covered regardless of whether you choose to mark it in this way or not), it’s strongly recommended that you provide a copyright notice on all pages of the website. It’s also worth considering including a copyright notice to images, CSS, html, and other key files that can be downloaded. Adding notices will make it clear that copyright exists and deter potential infringement. The most effective and widely accepted format for this is ‘Copyright © year author name’.
4. Make a statement
Along with your copyright notice, it’s important to provide a copyright statement. This should be a straightforward declaration – don’t get tied up with legal jargon - the point is to state your wishes clearly and succinctly. The most common example used online is: ‘All rights reserved’. This is simple and covers most eventualities - it simply means that you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowed under the copyright law.
5. Copyright has an expiration date
Although this is not yet an issue for web designers because the internet has only existed since 1992, it’s important to be aware that copyright protection is only valid for 70 years after the death of the creator or company.
When copyright expires, the work will fall into the public domain, making it available to anyone wishing to reuse, copy or reproduce.
6. What counts as infringement?
It’s an offence to copy the work, issue copies to the public or adapt it in any way without the consent of the owner.
7. Fair dealing/Fair use
The following acts are permitted to a certain degree without infringing copyright:
- Private and research study purposes
- Use for educational purposes
- Criticism and news reporting
- Incidental inclusion
- Acts for the purposes of royal commissions, statutory enquiries, judicial proceedings and parliamentary purposes
- Producing a backup copy for personal use of a computer program.
8. Detecting and dealing with infringement
There are many tools and services that offer help to tackle copyright abuse. Copyscape is a useful tool that will compare your web pages to others indexed by Google and return any it finds with matching text.
The UK Copyright Service offers some great advice on how you can deal with possible infringement of your work.
9. Always ask permission
Whether you want to use a photograph or illustration, a quote or sound file, you need to ask permission.
Always allow time for this process - you shouldn’t use someone else’s work until you have gained their permission. There’s no guarantee that you will be granted use and, in some cases, you may be asked for a payment in exchange.
When you ask for permission, you should include the following information:
- A full description of the work you wish to use
- How the work will be used. Give specific details of any changes to the work, and assurances that the work will not be used to mislead, slander, or portrait the author in a bad light
- Provide assurances that the work will be properly attributed
- Include full contact details to ensure that you can be contacted in case of any questions.
10. Infringement Consequences
If you use work without permission, and the copyright owner finds out, they may wish to take action against you for infringement. This could mean that you’re required to pay damages for any lost royalties and legal costs.
Written by Ally Wright