The Fine Line Between Fair Use And Copyright Infringement, And How It Affects Startup Bloggers

Before the widespread use of the internet, most people thought that to copyright intellectual property, one had to register their work with their local Copyright Office, or if they were on a budget, mail copy of their work to themselves and leave it unopened; a method known as the poor man’s copyright. Of course, the truth is that work is copyrighted as soon as it is created, whether or not the creator decided to put a copyright symbol (©) in tiny letters somewhere within the work, register their work with the Copyright Office, or make use of the poor man’s copyright.

The widespread use of the internet has certainly become a game changer when it comes to copyright issues. Because our movements online are tracked from site to site and from practically from second to second, there is more hard evidence as to who created what, particularly since blog articles often show what date and time they were posted. Moreover, if an author sends a copy of his manuscript to an agent or a publisher via email from an account of which he or she can prove ownership, accurate records of when the correspondence took place are automatically recorded, and thus provide supporting evidence that the manuscript is the author’s original work.

Copyright law does not just seek to protect against the theft of ideas. It also is implemented in the interest of controlling the means of production of a piece of art in such a way that the artist is fairly compensated for his or her work reaching people.

Some artists use innovative measures to prevent the illicit circulation of their work altogether. Jorgen Angel, a Danish photographer known for his striking and often candid photographs of such legendary rock performers as AC/DC, Deep Purple and T. Rex, sells prints of his photographs on his website, www.angel.dk. To ensure that he is able to keep his business from being undercut by piracy, a copyright symbol is displayed upon the full-sized image that appears when a visitor clicks on the thumbnail, which thwarts those who might want to download the picture for free. On the other hand, Irish illustrator and photographer Jim Fitzpatrick, known for designing numerous album covers for the hard rock band Thin Lizzy and the iconic silkscreen of Che Guevara (which, ironically, Jim Fitzpatrick copied from a famous photograph) displays intact images of his work, particularly that for Thin Lizzy at appreciable size and resolution, allowing a visitor complete access. It could be inferred that Fitzpatrick is more concerned with maintaining his level of visibility, as he sells original pieces through his website, www.jimfitzpatrick.ie.

The doctrine of Fair Use allows for the limited unauthorized use of copyrighted material for certain purposes including, but not necessarily limited to, “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” In other words, in the case of articles, portions of somebody’s work may be used, but by no means is it permissible for a blog article to be republished intact and in its entirety by somebody other than the author. But paragraphs may be quoted, particularly in the interest of using the words of a like-minded blogger to uphold a thesis statement, or to make a rebuttal against a blog post with which one disagrees. Also providing links to the article in question is not only completely kosher, but in most cases encouraged by the author of the article itself.

The regulations surrounding the use of images are a little bit more lenient. For example, an album being sold on Amazon will have its entire front cover displayed at a lower than normal resolution. This enables buyers to identify the product, but also inhibits the unauthorized use of the image. Wikipedia maintains a similar practice. Often when photographs are viewed on this site, below the picture the words “No higher resolution available will appear.”

Nonetheless, because information is very easily transmitted these days owing to the presence of the internet, copyright holders would run themselves out of time and money trying to chase down every blogger who engages in some form of unauthorized use and/or distribution of their work. That being said, if and when you decide to use somebody else’s words or pictures to enhance your blog post, there is an honor system to follow. Fair use does not allow for overuse, and with that in mind, try to imagine that the audience you want to reach would want to be more interested in what you have to say. When using pictures, keep them at a resolution of about two hundred to three hundred pixels. Not only will you run less of a risk of inflaming copyright holders, but the compacted size as a result of the resolution will make assembling the layout easier and will keep your blog post from looking cluttered and asymmetrical. To further protect against litigation, it also would be a good idea to name check the creator of the image and/or provide a link to the image’s website of origin.

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