Copyright Made Easy

Although some are confused by copyright laws, they really aren’t all that difficult to figure out and this post is meant to help clear the confusion.  I’m not a lawyer, so this post should not be considered legal advice and this post is based on U.S. laws.  But I have done quite a bit of research regarding copyright because it was important for me to remain on the right side of the law when designing crochet patterns.  Some argue that copyright laws shouldn’t even exist or that they are a dying breed, but I’m not here to argue that because right now, they DO exist and because they do, you CAN get in trouble for infringing on them.

Copywrong – Firstly, the word is copyright, not copywrite.  It’s easy to remember if you think of it this way:

You can have copy rights which protect your work, but you can’t be a copyrighter as a profession.  A copywriter is someone who writes copy as a profession, usually for advertising or marketing purposes.

Copyrights exist on a work the moment it has been affixed in a permanent state, whether it be handwritten, cast in clay, videotaped, or typed on a computer screen.  Copyrights also exist whether a work has been registered with the copyright office or not.  If it has been registered, which entails monetary fees, then it is easier to enforce the rights, but registration is not a requirement for the rights to exist or be enforced.

Copyright often gets confused with other rights that we won’t be getting into in this post, but for a little clarification, here are some short descriptions.

Trademarks – Trademarks are a word, group of words or a symbol or logo that can be legally registered as representing a company or brand.  Think of the brand names used by large bottled soda companies.  Their names are trademarked words and are registered and may only be used by them or with their permission and have become known world-wide.  They are big.  Do not infringe.  They will squash you!  😉

Licenses – Licenses can be thought of as permission to use a logo, character, or trademark that belongs to someone else.  Many sewing fabrics have images of licensed logos or characters on them, think major league sports teams.  (In these cases, the fabric manufacturer has procured license from the owner of these characters for use on the fabric and that permission, in turn, goes to the purchaser of the fabric who can use the fabric to make and sell items from it, so long as they do not claim to be making official items from it, unless otherwise indicated).

The terms defined above are different animals than actual copyright so I will not expand further on them in this post.  But there are some other terms that are related to copyright that may need a little explanation.

Fair Use – Fair Use allows the use of some copyrighted materials under certain conditions.  Generally those conditions are for non-profit/non-commercial education, research, criticism, comment, parody (can fall under Derivative Works and contains commentary), and news reporting.  Considerations that allow it are given that favor less creative (more factual than art or a fantasy novel, for example), less substantial amounts of the work used (if a substantial amount is used it would NOT be considered fair use), and whether the use harms the original copyright holder.   Of note, “parody” does not always equal “humor” and “commentary” is not just adding a few comments to the work.  If you don’t understand any of that, then please stay away from trying to use Fair Use as a means to use someone else’s copyrighted works.

If you are not using the work for any of the purposes above, or if you are using entire works rather than small amounts, or are harming the original copyright holder in any way – monetarily or otherwise – then you most likely CANNOT claim you are using it under Fair Use.  Also, it’s probably not a good idea to try this on a monetized platform.

Derivative Works – “Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, an adaptation of that work.”  This quote is direct from the U.S. Copyright Office and really needs no clarification.

This should clarify the myth that by altering a certain percent of a copyrighted work makes it okay to use without permission. It should also clarify that posting something that belongs to someone else and giving credit or a link back to the original creator is enough. It’s not. It’s pretty clear that permission is needed from the original copyright holder in both cases.

Fortunately, many social platforms have a “Share” button which is meant to allow you to quickly and easily share the work of others legally.  That’s right.  The Share button.  Use it!  In summary, your best bet to avoid breaking the law or violating a terms of service is to use content you created yourself or to get permission to use someone else’s content, or to share or link to the content.  However, there are wonderful things like Creative Commons licenses and public domain content that may be used!  There are several types of Creative Commons licenses though, so they need to be investigated to be sure they are used correctly.

Each of the types of Creative Commons licenses are described clearly at this link Please note that some allow you to change the work, others don’t. Some allow you to post without attribution (credit and/or a link) and others don’t. So be sure you understand what can and cannot be done with each type of license before using a Creative Commons licensed material and don’t assume they are all the same or a free for all.

The Public Domain is the term used for works whose copyright has expired or has been forfeited by the copyright holder for the use of all.  However, the public domain is different for each country and some works may fall into the public domain in some countries but not others.  It is pretty easy to find works in the public domain in your country with simple internet search engines and there are many sites that contain images that fall under public domain or Creative Commons licenses.  Pixabay is one that contains images free for even commercial use and they don’t require any attribution.

Considerations – Be aware of where and how you are using such images and works.  Placing them on monetized platforms could be considered commercial use where they otherwise may not be.  If such a monetized site has terms of service that prohibit you from infringing on copyright laws, but your country doesn’t abide by those laws, you still may be banned or have posts removed because ultimately, most platforms have legal wording that allow them to discontinue your accounts and use of service at their discretion.

I hope this clears up a lot of confusion.  Not everyone gets in trouble for infringing on copyright laws and you may see plenty around you who are doing it.  But there have been cases of Etsy shops being closed down, cease and desist orders, and infringing posts removed as well as fines imposed and small businesses ruined.  So remember your mom’s wise words and don’t jump off a cliff just because your friends are doing it.  😉

And here’s a handy-dandy visual for getting your answers at a quick glance.













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