How To Copy Other People’s Stuff And Stay on the Right Side of the Law

How To Copy Other People’s Stuff And Stay on the Right Side of the Law

The Internet landscape has changed when it comes to copyright. Previously, publishers would jealously guard their material, and could even send lawyers after you if you copied it without permission. But now Web 2.0 sites like YouTube encourage users to copy their material, so they get more exposure and more traffic.

So what has changed, and what can you do about it?

First, understand that the basic copyright laws have not changed. Anything published by somebody is still copyright, and you’re legally not allowed to copy it without their permission.

In fact, I know somebody who recently received a nasty letter and a big bill from a law firm representing a photo library, alleging she was using one of their photos without buying the licence. It turned out her graphic designer had used this picture illegally on her Web site.

So be careful about what you copy from the Internet. If anything, it’s become easier, not harder, for copyright owners to track down offenders.

But more people are giving permission.

The big shift is that more people are giving permission for other to copy their material. I’ve already mentioned YouTube, which goes out of its way to give you the exact instructions to copy any of their video clips to your Web site or blog.

Another copyright system that’s becoming more common is the “Creative Commons License” – at . It’s very useful to know how this works, because it allows you to use other people’s material – with their permission.

For example, , which is like YouTube for photos, allows a photographer to make their photos available for others to use. Flickr can be an excellent source of photos for your PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, books, e-books and any other publications.

Here’s how it works…

By default, photos on Flickr are copyright. But optionally, the photographer can grant these rights:

Attribution: You have to give them credit for using their photos.

Noncommercial: You can only use them for non-commercial purposes.

No Derivative Works: You can’t alter the photos.

Share Alike: If you use the photos in any product, you must make that product available for others to use in the same way.

These rights can be combined. For example, “Attribution + No Derivative Works + Noncommercial” means the photo can only be used in original form for non-commercial purposes. On the other hand, just “Attribution + No Derivative Works” means you can use it for commercial purposes (but still only in its original form).

For our sake, as potential users, the least restrictive licence is just “Attribution”, because it means we can use it – at no charge – for commercial purposes, and even alter it, as long as we attribute the original photographer. For instance, if you’re using the photo in a book, attribute the photo where it appears or on the Acknowledgements page.

So how many photos are available this way?

Here’s the good news. At the time of writing, Flickr has over 22 million photos available for use under just the Attribution licence! That’s a huge collection to choose from, so it’s an excellent starting point when you’re searching for a photograph to use in your presentations, documents or products.