In our post about Wantering.com, IFB discussed the legal issues and ownership rights that accompany blog images. It sparked a great conversation in our community about not only how outside companies and websites use blogger images, but also about what our rights are as creators of original content.
As a blogger, you are the publisher, author, artist and owner of all the unique content you post. It's yours, and you have the right to control how it is used, where it is used and who can use it. This applies to your written words as well as your original photography. Most of the time, we internet folk are pretty lax with controlling the spread of our content from site to site (via Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, etc) because it's usually helpful. Social sharing is the digital form of word-of-mouth, and it helps our traffic and grows our community. However, instances will arise where it's important to know what your legal rights are, if you find your content in a place it shouldn't be, being used in a way you don't approve.
Below, IFB breaks down 9 legal terms for every blogger that are essential to knowing your rights and protecting your content:
This is a broad term that encompasses laws that govern “products of the mind,” and what ownership and rights apply to these products. Specific areas that fall under this topic include copyright, trademark, trade secrets and patent law. Most of what you need to know about intellectual property deals with copyright law. See below.
This law was created both to protect and foster the creation of “original works of authorship.” Examples of this kind of copyrightable work include blog posts, photographs, videos, podcasts, news articles, musical compositions, and computer software. As the creator of copyrighted content, you have the “exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute it, display or perform it, and to create derivative works from it, as well as the ability to transfer any or all of these rights.” Though many of us are very lax in our control of where and how our images are distributed across the internet, should you feel violated, you're within your rights to take action!
You can read the DMCA in it's entirety here, but for convenience let's summarize it a bit. This act was created to protect as the administrator of a website or other service (like a blog), meaning that you will not be held liable for money damages for infringing content posted “at the direction of a user,” onto your site, as long as you didn't know about it. An example of this might be posting a video you don't own on YouTube. It's not just video though, it could be words, pictures or anything that doesn't belong to the person that is then published to your site (most commonly in the comments or forums).
According to the Library of Congress, “privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person(s) who may be the subject(s) of the work or intellectual creation.” This means that an advertiser must obtain permission from the subject of a photograph in order to use it commercially, because the subject has retained both privacy and publicity rights in the use of their likeness. For example, a site cannot use your image, wearing Bag X to sell Bag X, unless you give permission.
The part of the doctrine that is most likely to apply to bloggers is: Some material protected by copyright may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder if it meets certain qualifications (editorial, educational, etc.) That roughly translates to: if an image is being used in a creative context, to illustrate a point, show a trend or something you like (and it’s credited) – it’s usually okay. When that image is used for commerce without consent, that’s not Fair Use. Generally, say you republish a photo from another source to comment on it, or someone takes a paragraph from and then comments on it, that's okay. If you're not adding anything, – taking a photo from somewhere else and commenting on it it's usually okay.
As many of us learned in school, plagiarism is stealing ideas and content and publishing them as your own. Citing your sources is the easiest way to avoid plagiarism, whether it's quoting someone or giving them credit for an idea you're discussing. If you think your content has been plagiarized and you want to take action, first consider your goal. If you want this person or publication to stop and take the content down, look to see if whoever is hosting the site has registered a DCMA, and send a “take down notice” to the web host (GoDaddy, Blogger, WordPress, etc.) and they can take it down. You can bypass the actual publisher. Send a cease & desist letter, because it can take about a year to sue someone and go through the whole process. DMCA notice.
Libel and Slander
Libel and slander are both forms of defamation. Libel is written, slander is spoken. So what's defamation? A false statement about a person to a third party, that damages their reputation. So basically, lying. (This is a state law, so you have to look up the specific details depending on where you live.) It's important to note that adding the phrase, “In my opinion…” in front of a statement that isn't true does not protect you. While your blog does give you a platform to speak your mind and express your views, it doesn't give you permission to lie about others. (We found this interesting to note, given all the recent comments and questions that arose after after our GOMI interview.)
*To compile this post, we consulted heavily with two lawyers, Ruth Carter of Carter Law Firm and Quinn Heraty of Heraty Law. We also used an excellent online source for Internet publishers called Citizen Media Law Project. We recommend browsing this site for more detailed information about many of the terms and laws mentioned above.
*Disclaimer: Information in this guide is based on general principles of law and is intended for information purposes only. It is not offered for the purpose of providing individualized legal advice. Use of this guide does not create an attorney-client or any other relationship between the user and IFB or the lawyers consulted.