Copyright Considerations for Web Hosts - Correcting Copyright Myths
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If you or anyone on your staff holds any of the mistaken beliefs about copyright that I'm about to discuss, you'll want to correct them. You may even want to devote an FAQ on your web site to this issue, aimed specifically at your customers. You can also include a section that details how you will respond to receiving a DMCA notice of copyright infringement.
First of all, just because it's published online does NOT mean that it is "in the public domain." As I mentioned above, work that is published online is entitled to the same copyright protection as any other work. Work in the public domain can be freely used and copied.
There are certain cases in which limited portions of a work can be copied for "fair use." Fair use purposes include commentary, criticism, and parody - but under no circumstances does fair use represent a "blank check" to copy whatever you want.
Including the name of an article's author and/or linking to the site on which the original article appears does NOT somehow make it "okay" for you to copy the material. You still must get permission. If you think enough of an article to want to copy it anyway, you should ask for permission; you might be pleasantly surprised. Many content sites have specific policies in place that allow some limited content reproduction, if you ask nicely.
Changing an article or a design slightly still constitutes copying an original work. Just as you need permission from the copyright holder to copy the original work, you also need permission to use a derivative work. Only the copyright holder can publish derivatives of his or her own work with impunity.
How long does copyright apply to a creative work? Many if not most items published in the U.S. on the Internet will fall under the rules that came into effect after 1978. Those state that an item's copyright is good for 70 years after the copyright holder's death. If you're dealing with a work-for-hire piece, then the copyright doesn't expire until 95 years after it was published or 120 years after it was created, whichever is shorter.
What makes a work copyrighted? The simple act of creation is enough. It doesn't matter whether it's something as simple as a forum post or an email; it is copyrighted by its author from the second it's created. It doesn't need to be registered with anyone, and it doesn't need a copyright notice. The copyright notice used to be necessary at one time, but that ended in 1989. It's still a good idea to include a copyright notice though.
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