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Stay Out Of the Copyright Jail

This is my contribution #4 to the “Better Blog in 31 days” project. But for anybody who is interested in knowing exactly what Copyright law says, read on.

Scott posted a comment in Problogger’s Day 17 chapter that someone is scraping contents from Darren’s site. That led me thinking as exactly what the legal term is when it comes to “borrowing contents” from the fellow bloggers. As we all know, every blogger nowadays is “scraping” contents in some kind of form from other people’s sites.

So I did a little digging to find out some information on this subject. Thanks to Peter Kent’s book “SEO for Dummies”, he wrote an entire chapter about this topic. So let me pick a few key items from his book:

  • As soon as someone creates a work – writes an article, writes a song, composes a tune, or whatever – copyright is automatic. There is no need to register copyright;… (otherwise), the Library of Congress, which houses the copyright Office and stores copyright registrations would be the size of Alabama.
  • If you don’t see a copyright notice attached, it doesn’t mean the work’s copyright isn’t owned by someone. Current copyright law does not require such notices.
  • You can’t take an article you find in a newspaper, magazine, or Web site and use it without permission. However, there are exceptions, see later explanations
  • If you don’t know whether you have the right to use something, assume that you don’t
  • You can’t just take something and rewrite it. Derivative works are also protected. If the result is clearly derived from the original, you could be in trouble.
  • Copyright has to be expressly assigned. If you hire me to write an article for your Web Site and don’t get a contract saying that you own all rights, or that the work as a work for hire, you only have the right to place it on your Website. I still have the right to use the article elsewhere


  • if it’s really old, you can use it. Copyright eventually expires. Anything created before 1921, for instance, is free for the taking
  • If the government created, you can use it. The US government spends millions of dollars creating content. This content is usally not copyright protected.
  • If it is donated, you can use it. If the author gave public permission to use it, you can take it
  • If it is for “Fair Use” – Copyright law has a fair use exception that allows you to use small portion of the work, without permission, under particular conditons.

The fair use exception is a very tough call since there is no hard line drawn as exactly what the fair use is. So, I am going to insert the direct text from our Copyright Law here:

“Under the fair use doctrine of the US Copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102. fair use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians”

So, here I am, by obeying the Copyright Law and applying the “Fair Use” exception, I used Peter Kent’s contents by quoting his work. End of story.

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