Build a Website: Understanding Copyrights
If you want to publish a website or blog, a good starting place for ideas is the Web itself. Browse around and look at other people's publications. You'll undoubtedly find graphics, photos, music and other content that you may want to use on your site. It's easy to copy and modify content to suit your needs. Many people do this routinely, but it raises copyright issues you should be aware of.
The Internet is a relatively new frontier; the World Wide Web even newer. Because of the unique nature of digital media, copyright laws that apply to content in the physical world don't work as well online. As a result, there are gray areas that are hotly debated. However, some general principles do apply. If you think of online content as an original creation, then it follows that you can't reproduce it without the permission of the copyright holder. Even if you aren't reproducing someone else's work for commercial purposes, you still must get permission.
Let's say you find a website or blog you like and you want to provide this information to your visitors. You can do this by linking to the site. Do you need permission? The way things stand right now, the answer is no. In fact the Web was designed to easily facilitate the free exchange of information; many websites, such as Learn the Net, actively encourage links. After all, why publish on the Internet if you don't want to make your content publicly available? Still, consider notifying the webmaster of the site that you are linking to a page. You might even ask for a reciprocal link, a good way to increase traffic to your site.
Many video sharing sites, like YouTube and Hulu actually encourage you to embed video clips in your site or blog. They provide HTML code so you can make this content available to your audience. In this case, there's no need to ask permission.
In general though, text, graphics, animation, video, music and other intellectual property that is published on the Internet is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. You can't use someone else's work unless you first get permission from the copyright owner. (One exception is if the work falls under the doctrine of Fair Use; another is the use of work under Creative Commons license.)
In many cases it may be difficult to determine who holds the copyright. See if there is a list of credits or a copyright notice on the site. If not, try e-mailing the technical contact for the website. In many cases, this is the webmaster, who usually doesn't deal with content-related issues. But he or she should be able to refer you to the right person. To protect yourself, obtain permission in writing.
The Copyright Website has a summary of the issues raised here, as well as many others.
Last update: Jan 12, 2010