Blogging and Writing

Tips for Bloggers to Avoid Copyright Violations

Most bloggers are very well-intentioned and would try to steer clear of any potential copyright violations. However, it’s not hard to inadvertently cross the line from okay to dodgy. So, let’s chat about some issues that might come up.

Copyright notice

There doesn’t have to be a notice asserting the content owner’s copyright for that material to be protected under copyright. That means that whether or not I say on my site Β© 2021 Ashley Peterson, it’s still mine and no one has the right to take it without permission. When in doubt, it’s probably best to assume that the things that appear on someone’s website are protected under their copyright and are not meant to be freely used.

Reblogging

Reblogging (i.e. publishing an excerpt of someone’s post with a clear link to their original content) isn’t considered a copyright violation, unless you’re copying and pasting the whole blog post, at which point, you’re not reblogging, you’re plagiarizing. You might not like people reblogging your posts, but there isn’t much you can do about it, aside from getting rid of the reblog button (although there are still other ways to “reblog” a post).

Free image sites like Pixabay

When you’re downloading images from free sites like Pixabay, they’re granting you a license to use those images. You probably haven’t read it and don’t care to, but that’s what governs your use of iamges. Pixabay has a simplified version of their license that lays out the basic conditions for using images. The image says that attribution to the source is nice, but not required. It’s their images, their license, their say, so if anyone gives you a hard time for not attributing Pixabay images, tell them to go read the license.

Premium image sites

Premium sites like Shutterstock need to show you images somehow so you can decide which one(s) you want to purchase a license for. They handle this by watermarking those images that are displayed. If you find an image somewhere that has watermarks on it, that’s a clear indication that you don’t have the right to use it.

Oh, and if you take that watermarked image as is from a premium site like Shutterstock, crediting Shutterstock when you display it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a copyright violation.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses allow others to use a creator’s work in a certain way based on the type of license. The different licenses are based on:

  • whether the work can be used commercially or only for non-commercial purposes
  • whether others can adapt your work
  • whether others using the work must attribute it to the creator

A lot of the images on Wikipedia (which you can find on Wikimedia Commons) are available under a Creative Commons license.

Social media content

Just because something’s posted on social media doesn’t mean that anyone can use it. Usually things are meant to be shared, though, and I think the key here is that you want to credit whoever created the content, which may not be the source you got it from. Pinterest (or any other platform) is never the actual source of an image.

Embedding content

The WP block editor allows you to embed content from other sites, such as Youtube and Twitter, on your blog. From what I could find, that’s not considered a copyright infringement, because you don’t have a copy of their content on your blog; you just offer a little viewing portal to see their content. As an example, let’s say you embed an image that I tweeted on your blog post. I later choose to delete the image because I don’t want people using it. At that point, your embedded link to the original tweet will be broken, and my image doesn’t still exist on your site.

The exception is if you embed content that you know is a copyright infringement to begin with. So if you happen to find a copy of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape on Youtube and embed it on your blog, you should be expecting Kris Jenner to come after yo’ ass.

Google Images

Just like regular Google, Google Images is a search engine. It’s not the source of the images it shows. Just like an article that shows up in Google search isn’t automatically fair game to copy and use for your own purposes, the same is true for Google Images.

Let’s say I created the blue copyright graphic above (although I didn’t). And let’s say that you searched Google Images and found this copyright graphic. That doesn’t mean it’s Google’s, and it doesn’t mean you can use it. You have to click through to my site from Google and decide based on what you see here whether it’s freely usable or not.

Fair use

In the U.S., the fair use doctrine allows certain copyright-protected material to be used without it being considered a copyright violation, mostly for the purpose of parody or commentary and criticism. This is based on four factors:

  1. The use must be transformative, in the sense that new meaning is added, such as through critical commentary or parody
  2. The nature of the work (e.g. factual vs. creative work)
  3. The amount and substantiality of the work taken
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market (are you depriving the copyright-owner of income?)

I’ve occasionally used photos under fair use. For example, I did a post on people with mental illness being chained to trees. There was no way I could afford tracking down and paying for a license. The newspaper photo I included was the basis of critical commentary, and I reduced the size and resolution of the image to decrease the substantiality and avoid impact on the potential market. I also included a note explaining that, because if the owner of the image stumbled across it, I didn’t want them to consider coming after me.

‘Fessing up

I try to be pretty careful, but I’ve had my missteps. One thing I’ve definitely violated is the trademark on Bullet Journal. Yeah, it’s trademarked. Given how popular it’s become, I don’t imagine Ryder Carroll is trying to track down anyone who’s not making money off of it, so yeah, it is what it is.

When you do have a misstep, there is a chance that someone will take issue with it. That might look like them doing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice, or they could freak out at you directly. Since I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, Sharon at Sharon Unfiltered was on the receiving end of a DMCA notice and a major freak-out because of an innocent mistake. As writers, it’s harder for people to steal our stuff by accident, but for people who create images, it might feel like having a blog post plagiarized, and that could mean a pretty spazztastic response.

Do you occasionally commit copyright faux pas, or think you probably do inadvertently? Is it something that’s even on your radar?

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58 thoughts on “Tips for Bloggers to Avoid Copyright Violations”

  1. Why do people re-blog? Why can’t they just put a link to the post they like with their own commentary, if they have any. Also I only use my own photographs but if I want a graphic of some kind I use Google and choose ‘free’ –

    1. I don’t really see the appeal of reblogging either. I’ll do it if someone has just released a book or something and I want to help promote them, but otherwise, like you said, I’ll mention and link to them in a post of my own.

    2. That’s good that you got more exposure from that post. Personally, I tend to skip right over reblogs because they’re lower on my time prioritization list.

      1. Yeah, for sure. There was one point maybe a couple of years ago when multiple bloggers I knew were frequent rebloggers, and I’d see the same posts showing up multiple times being reblogged by different people. Stop the madness! But Maja does a very good of sharing but not so often it gets to be too much.

  2. I frequently violate copyright on my blog by stealing whatever images I find from a quick Google search. I know it’s technically illegal, but I figure this is one of those occasions where it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. In other words, if I was ever asked to take down an offending image, then I would. But the chances of that happening are pretty remote, particularly as I don’t earn any money from my blog. If I ran my blog as a for-profit venture, then I’d probably be a bit more careful.

      1. Yes, I would care if someone plagiarised entire blog posts. I would probably contact them and call them out on it. I probably wouldn’t lose much sleep about it – I’d count it as a minor annoyance.

        But if people are *profiting* from my blog posts, e.g. by including them in commercial works like books and passing it off as their own work, I’d probably feel aggrieved and might consider legal action.

        If people were “borrowing” or quoting a small subsection of my blog posts, then that probably falls under Fair Use and it wouldn’t bother me at all. As a matter of courtesy, it’s nice if people include attribution / citations, but in reality lots of people don’t bother.

        1. I would think that most people who are deliberately ripping off other people’s content are benefiting from it in some way, whether that’s ad revenue or what have you. Otherwise, why bother?

          And there are lots of things people don’t bother with doing, but that doesn’t make it legit, and it’s not a matter of courtesy if it’s the law. People can and do choose not to care, but if something is a copyright violation, that’s irrelevant.

  3. Wikipedia is a good place to find famous people images, because the work has already been done to track down a usable image. In the US, I think dead person copyright expiry is 70 years after their death, but I can’t imagine Claire Weekes’ estate would get their knickers in a knot over you encouraging people to read her book.

  4. It is amazing how easy it can be to slip into a copyright mistake unintentionally. I suspect I have made this mistake countless times, because I literally use images straight off google images to form the image at the top of my blog post.

  5. Even if bloggers don’t make money on their blog, WordPress might make money on ads on their blog. So illegally using images and content probably violates copyright and is not (in our opinion) a victimless crime (based on current law). That said, while were conscious of this topic, we’re not losing sleep over it

  6. Good tips. I rarely reblog, unless someone is kind enough to review one of my books. I try to get all my images from Pixabay or Pexels, but occasionally I grab one from Google, such as the PB cups…

  7. Hi, it’s a great idea what I need. I am also a fresher. I research my topic again and again before writing. I will always be aware of the paste. I never allowed me to cut-copy-paste because nobody will be a blogger if she/he doesn’t research the niche. So work hard on what I am doing now. I am very happy that I learn lots by reading this article.

  8. Thanks for the post! It made a lot of things clear to me.

    I often wonder if its possible to ever post a lot something original on your blog, like something no one else has ever worked on especially if they are based on facts and needs evidence from other research works.

    But now I think I have understood somethings clearer, but I would still appreciate your insight on my blog I am always scared of copyright issues, because most of my contents are not original, but based on research though are modified to suit my audience.

  9. πŸ™‚ Book bloggers can actually land themselves in trouble by using an except from an author’s book without their permission (That is something that book bloggers rarely think of).

    1. Using quotes from a book (and the cover) for a review is covered under fair use and permission isn’t required, but taking too long an excerpt can potentially cause problems.

  10. I not sure if I have crossed a line when I will re-blog someone’s post. I have never taken credit for the post. I always in the main heading say: A Reblog”. Also, I always give credit to the writer and include a link back to the blogger’s blog.
    I remember my English teachers in High School teaching about “plagiarism”. I was once warned from you Ashley about a post that was plagiarized. I immediately went and deleted the post. Plagiarism is certainly one way to get into trouble with the law.
    I try to keep myself within the lines.

  11. Oh, I’ve been confused about this for so long! Thank you so much for explaining it!!

    I think I get around the issue by either not using images or by making my own, lol. I was too intimidated to try to work out what I could fairly use and what I couldn’t. But now I understand it better!! Thank you!

  12. Copyright is coubyry dependent and if youvreblog too much, wordpress will bump you from the reader so there is less exposure from new readers and existing reader followers.

  13. Thank you for clearly stating the pixabay rules. I have now had 2 nasty run ins with people insisting I link to pixabay and I have only been blogging for a few months! I told them to go read the pixabay license. πŸ‘πŸ˜‰πŸ‘

      1. Indeed …they both came via the contact form on my website straight to my email inbox. One was clearly spam…trying to scare me into paying a fee to a dubious account to avoid getting sued…the other from somebody clearly with nothing better to do. *faceplam*

  14. Hi Ashley, I watched this YouTube video today from one of my favourite creators, Thunderf00t. It reminded me a lot of this recent post of yours about copyright and Fair Use. I thought you and your readers might find Thunderf00t’s video interesting and useful.

    https://youtu.be/pHVMlJocUpc

    1. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but yeah, I’ve heard of frivolous DMCA claims. I would guess, at least with the blogs I read, the people that are aware of fair use and making deliberate choices are a very different population than the people who are using other people’s content because they either don’t know or don’t particularly care that they’re not supposed to.

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