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.