Copyright and the Web

When making your very own web page, you will probably search the web for cool things to include on your page or even want to use something you found in a book or magazine. However, it is important to first understand the legal issue of copyright.

Copyright law comes straight out of the Constitution of the United States (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8) and states that its purpose is to:

"promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,
by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors
the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Sound confusing? Well, it basically means that a copyright gives authors certain exclusive rights to their works. And, in order to give authors such rights over their works, copyright law does two main things. First, copyright protects the author's right to benefit from his work, such as receiving money. And, second, copyright protects an author's work, by giving him exclusive control over how his work is used, including who can copy his work.

What can an author copyright? An author can only copyright his original work, whether literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, as well as certain other intellectual works. However, copyright does not protect any facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operations that are conveyed in a copyrighted work, and it doesn't extend to any pre-existing material that the author has put into his work.

Furthermore, copyright protects an author's original work expressed in:

  • a non-digital format, such as a book.
  • a digital format, such as a web page.
  • a non-digital format that has been transformed into a digital format, such as a picture scanned onto a webpage.
Knowing what is copyrighted is pretty tricky. Most people think that only those works that have an explicit copyright notice are actually copyrighted. Here are a few examples of such notices:

©
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2000
Copyright 2000 by Fred Smith

However, it is important to know that almost everything created privately and originally, including web pages, is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. So, to be safe, you should assume that other people's works are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise.

How would you know otherwise? Look for the phrase PUBLIC DOMAIN or see if the site mentions anything about PERMISSION, TERMS OF USE, RIGHTS, or COPYRIGHT.

What if a work is copyrighted and you still want to use it on your webpage? Then, you must contact the copyright owner asking for permission to include it on your website. Or, just provide a link to the content from your webpage and give the author credit. You don't need permission to link to another person's page.

So, before you go quoting, photocopying, downloading, and making other uses of other people's works, make sure you have the author's permission.

And, if you want to learn more about copyright, visit the following sites:

Now that you are fully aware of copyright law, I have a few more tags that I want to show you. right arrow

This resource originally created by Deborah Dunk. Revised and edited by Michael Galloway