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Online Copyright Refresher

Business Email Etiquette and Online Copyright

The practice of stealing text and images from emails and websites is a common occurrence. I’ve received several emails asking about online copyright “rules,” so here’s the rundown. (Hint: Everything is not public domain.)

Copyright online is alive and well (and being enforced).

Possunt quia posse videntur.
(Latin: They can because they think they can.)

One of the most misunderstood issues online has to do with copyright. Both with email and website content copyright issues. For some reason, as with many things online, there is this incorrect perception that anything goes or that the entire online world is “public domain.”

Many are finding out, the hard way, that when it comes to protecting creative collateral, copyright is the law. And, copyright laws can and are being enforced online.

I am not an attorney. Nor do I play one on T.V. But I can help you avoid potential problems based on guiding clients for over 25 years about the issues involved in using others’ work. Hopefully, this effort will help you avoid finding out the hard way that copyright is alive and well online.

Not paying attention to these issues can cause your website’s host to shut down your website. When they receive a DMCA complaint (more on that later) by the original owner of the copyright-protected information you chose to use without permission, they have to take action.

Can I right click, save anything online and use it how I wish?

This is a perfect example of just because you can doesn’t mean you do. Those graphics or files were created by someone out there.

They legally attained the copyright upon that file’s creation. Therefore, without specific permission to use that file or graphic (or you purchased the right to use it), you have no right to take it and use it as you please.

There is no exception to this rule. Always ask a site owner before you illegally swipe anything off their site to display or use on yours.

If I note the author’s name, I can use their site or email content on my website?

Although you are being nice and giving credit where credit is due, you still need to ask the author’s permission to post or use their work on your site or email newsletter. The author may not want their information posted anywhere off their own site.

They also may disapprove of your site as a venue for their information. But, again, that is their choice to make, not yours.

Just because you choose to give credit doesn’t imply permission. Always ask a site owner if you can use their content before you put it on your site.

Can I link to graphics on other websites so that they display on my website?

Okay, maybe you didn’t actually download the graphic and put it on your server, but if you display someone’s work on your site without their permission, the bottom line is still the same.

And, you are using their server’s resources to display their files on your site. Not something you want to get caught doing.

Can I display pages from other websites within frames on my website?

Framing is when you use some code to display a page from another website within a page on your website. Framing was much more popular back in the day. But it is still being implemented.

Most site owners would prohibit their website pages from being framed within another site. This is because it gives the impression that the site doing the framing created the information.

Many times folks innocently do this, so they don’t have to send site visitors off their website for information they want to provide. But, unfortunately, others do so precisely to give the impression it is content they created.

A better option is to link to the information you like and create a new window to open when creating your link code to ensure your website is still available to your site visitors.

If I only quote a portion of another website’s content and link to them, do I still need their permission?

The Fair Use Law does allow you to use portions. But that does not negate the copyright holder’s inherent rights. They can still claim infringement.

While you can use short snippets, it would behoove you to have permission to do so. By only integrating portions of the content, you also risk possibly providing the wrong impression about the author’s writings.

You do not want to risk being misleading about someone else’s content. If you want to quote any written work in whole or part, it would be wise and courteous to ask permission to do so.

If I pay someone to create graphics for my website, do I own the copyright to those graphics?

Not necessarily. Unless your agreement with the graphic artist explicitly states that upon your payment, all of their rights are then transferred to you in whole, you most likely only have an exclusive license to use those graphics.

This is because purchasing the full copyright is much more expensive than simple exclusivity. In addition, copyright can only be transferred in a written, legally binding agreement signed by the work’s creator.

That document must state that they are transferring their rights specifically to you. Saying you own it because you paid for it doesn’t make it a legal fact.

Is email still copyright protected once it is sent?

Whether written or drawn, the moment anything is created, the creator owns the copyright – that’s the law. It’s automatic.

Email is a written work that, once created, is copyright protected by the author. This means you should not post publicly an email sent to you privately. For example, you cannot post private emails to your website, to message boards, or to your blog without the author’s specific permission to do so.

Because an email was sent to you as a private communication does not mean you then own it and do what you like. (Not only from a legal viewpoint, but what type of person does this?)

What do you do if you are a victim of a graphic or content thief?

You can ask nicely that they remove your information and/or graphics; however, if your requests are ignored, and no action is taken, which is more common than not, you then need to file a formal DMCA complaint with their website’s hosting company.

How do you find out where a website is hosted?

Go to any domain registrar and look for the WHOIS link. Then search for the domain, and you will find all their contact information and their listed Name Servers. The Name Servers will indicate where the site is hosted.

Next, seek out the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) page and policy statement on the hosting provider’s website. There you find instructions on how they handle complaints concerning copyright abuse.

Take the time to read that information and make sure you follow their policy to the “T.” Submitting formal DMCA complaints must be in a certain format containing explicit verbiage.

The main resource for all the legal mumbo-jumbo on online copyright and the DMCA is on the Government’s site @ https://www.copyright.gov.

In some cases, Name Servers are in the cloud, not on the actual hosting provider. Some companies do this to hide where they are hosted. In that case, interrogate their cloud host’s website on contacting them about a DMCA issue. In most cases, cloud providers will help you out as they don’t want to be known for shielding copyright or trademark infringers.

What’s the bottom line with online copyright?

Courtesy. Don’t assume that you can use, repost or take anything you find online simply because you can. Be a courteous Netizen and always ask first.

Again, I am not an attorney, nor am I providing legal advice. However, I hope I’ve informed you of some of the issues that need to be seriously considered by all online, whether they are creating their own or using others’ creative or written works.

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