Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not about critters - but certainly about blogging

I was reading a blog in which the issue of copyright came up. I was bemused at the writer’s assumption that anything on the internet is “public” and can be used without getting permission as long as the original author is credited. This is a common misperception.

As a writer and a blogger, I am occasionally contacted by people or organizations wishing to use something they read on my blog. Some of my material, for example, has been published (with permission) in print and online newspapers and newsletters. I have also received requests via email from people wanting to use a single entry or an image for other purposes – and those requests have generally been granted. And I belong to a writers’ group in which I am currently reworking some of my blog entries and producing some new stories with the intention of eventually publishing a book or two.

Since my writing is important to me, and there is so much misunderstanding about copyright, I thought I would clarify how Canadian copyright laws apply to blog material.

Disclaimer: this entry outlines my understanding of Canadian copyright law and should not be used as your sole source of information. For a full copy of the Canadian Copyright Act (all 128 pages in pdf format), go to http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/showtdm/cs/C-42/ ) .

And therein lies the first lesson on internet copyright: if you want someone to read something someone else has authored, give them the link to the original document. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In my opinion, the four most basic and yet most important points in Canadian copyright law, as it pertains to blogs, are as follows:

1. Copyright is automatic in Canada – as soon as an original work is written down, recorded or entered on computer, it is immediately copyright protected. You don’t have to “register” it. That said, you MAY register it, and it is advisable to add a copyright statement to material you publish online. You will find mine in the top corner of my blog.

2. The Canadian law of copyright applies to the internet: using internet text or images or graphics that have been created by someone else without their permission is an infringement of copyright law.

3. The owner of the copyright is the person who created the words or images, unless he or she has a written agreement giving copyright to someone else (for example, an employer may hire someone to write their marketing materials for them and have them sign a contract giving copyright to the employer).

4. In Canada, copyright protects intellectual property rather than physical property – that is, the words of a story are protected by copyright, not the actual book or paper it is printed on. That copyright usually lasts for the lifetime of the creator, and for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the creator died.

(The source of the above information is the Media Awareness Network, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/legislation/canadian_law/federal/copyright_act/cdn_copyright_ov.cfmRetrieved August 10, 2010. )

It is generally considered acceptable practice to quote from another source, or to paraphrase that source (as I did above) without getting specific permission, as long as the full citation is given. For print materials this means providing the reader with the author, date of publication, title of article/book, place of publication and name of publisher. For online sources, the author and title (if available), full web address, and date retrieved.

It is NOT acceptable practice to take an article in its entirety and print it elsewhere, even if a citation is given, without permission. There are very specific and somewhat complex laws on what is acceptable, but a very general rule of thumb is that if you are quoting more than a few sentences, you probably need permission. Similarly, you can’t make a bunch of copies of an article you did not author, and hand it out (let alone sell it as part of a book) without permission of the author. To do so is an infringement of copyright.

The words written on a blog are owned by the author of the words, which is not necessarily the owner of the blog. For example, a while back I created a bit of a kerfuffle (kerfuffle - isn't that a great word?!!) when I wrote a story on my blog using excerpts from some entries I’d originally written as a contribution to another blog. I later learned that the owner of the earlier blog was furious. However, I was completely within my rights – those words were mine, I wrote them, and I never entered any agreement with the blog owner to give her copyright of my stories. The stories I wrote on that blog (and saved on my own computer) will forever be mine to use as I please.

Everything on my blog is my own except the comments of the blog readers and a few images which others gave me permission to use and where I have provided credit as per their instructions. On the rare occasion I have used a poem or song lyric whose copyright has not expired and which I did not author, I have provided a citation. Even where copyright has expired, I have provided the name of the author and the year of publication. It is the courteous, respectful and legal thing to do. I would hope that people using words or images from my blog would grant me that same respect.

There is no infringement of copyright if all you do is provide the link (for example a link to a youtube video or to another blog or website) as that is no different from recommending a book or a television show – it leads the reader to view the original work.

I hope this has been helpful to my blog readers, many of whom are bloggers themselves. Please note that Canadian and American copyright laws are considerably different and this entry refers only to Canadian copyright.

© 2010


Hunde Haus said...

Hopefully this correct information will reach the eyes of bloggers/webmasters who were under a different impression as to copyright laws.

Basically the same rights apply to photographs. Hoping the link comes through! http://ambientlight.ca/laws.php

I had also found a large amount of the same info relating to videos taken on a camera/hand held recorder on private property ( without someone jumping a fence a taping of course )but my computer crashed and I lost the links. Dang!!

Kerfuffle....say it fast 3 times and it is no longer a *word*. :))

JRM said...

Great post! As someone who had an entire article lifted and then attributed to just about the last person on Earth I'd want to let read, let alone use or be credited with writing, I know this pain.

Jean said...

Hunde Haus - yes, you are absolutely correct regarding photographs being copyright material.
When the Copyright act refers to "text" it means "words"; when it refers to "images" it means both photographs and computer generated pictures such as graphic designers make. as well as other forms of art such as paintings, sculptures, etc.

Jean said...

Regarding images taken on private property - when a private venue is open to the public or the public is invited into that venue, you are free to photograph/video images as long as you are not specifically told not to (verbally or by signage). However, there is also a reasonable expectation of privacy - for example, you might photograph the gardens, but not sneak into the person's bedroom and photograph the jewellry hidden in their dresser drawer. In other words, anything the public might reasonably view on being invited onto the property is fair game (unless they are told not to photograph); but things the public would not reasonably be expected to see (such as the jewels amidst the underwear) is not.

At the theatre where I volunteer (a private venue), patrons are specifically told they may not use a camera anywhere in the theatre part itself - the performance is copywrite and so is anything connect to it such as the visual effect created by the props. However, they can take photos out in the lobby or of the exerior of the building.

One last point - strictly speaking, images in which a person is clearly identifiable should have a "model release" before being published, even if that person was in a public venue. You'll notice on my blog I rarely (if ever) show clear pictures of people - when I do, it is with their permission. While I'm not sure how strictly the "model release" is adhered to by the media, I can certainly see how a person hiding from an abusive ex-spouse (for example) might not want to find their image plastered on the front page of a newspaper just because they happened to be at that public park when the photographer was capturing images of sunsets. Images with people whose faces are somewhat obscured or who are in shadow or far away are generally acceptable. At least, that's the way I understand the law. It is up to each photographer to read up on the laws for his/herself.

hornblower said...

LOL - we read the same blog :-)

Nice lesson.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Jean.

Researched, factual, and to the point. Easy to understand. Not emotional.

Ya can't argue with the truth!


Jean said...

Thanks everyone (including those who emailed me privately)- I'm glad you found it useful. Maybe the fact that I was an educator (and specifically a sociologist) explains my need to correct other people’s misinformation, question accuracy, and sometimes ask some tough questions. Sociology is, after all, widely referred to as “the destroyer of myths” and its research often debunks ‘common knowledge’ – a disconcerting experience for many first year sociology students! And I guess the sociologist in me also explains my tendency to insist that people cite their sources and give credit where credit is due. Or maybe that is the writer in me -after all, I am certainly more than my former profession as an educator!