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.
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 © 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 (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 make it okay.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- The use must be transformative, in the sense that new meaning is added, such as through critical commentary or parody
- The nature of the work (e.g. factual vs. creative work)
- The amount and substantiality of the work taken
- 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.
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?