Why Every Blogger Needs to Understand Intellectual Property Rights

Copyright law in the United States can be complex, but one thing is simple and clear: if you didn’t create a piece of media, you can’t use it without the creator’s permission. If you use someone else’s media, like a photo, video, or audio file, you’re committing a crime unless you have permission.

Whether you’re flying solo or you’re part of a team that uses or distributes media, it’s critical to understand and follow copyright law to the letter. You can avoid most instances of legal trouble by adopting the SIST and ISO standards when producing end products (whether those products are paid or free).

So, what makes copyright law so difficult if it’s actually cut and dry? The confusion comes from two main misunderstandings:

  1. Fair use applies as long as you don’t make a profit
  2. Media is free to use as long as there isn’t a copyright notice attached

These misunderstandings are only accelerated by the ease by which copyrighted materials can be obtained online.

The internet makes thoughtless copyright violations almost natural

The availability of images on the internet makes it extremely easy for bloggers to do a Google search and grab whatever image they need. Who’s going to pursue a claim against a blogger for using a boring photo of a green pepper, right?

The truth is, photographers sue bloggers all the time for copyright violations. At first, it was just large stock image companies like Getty that sued bloggers for using their images without a paid license. Today we’re seeing more individuals pursue copyright claims against other individuals and even against businesses.

Most creators will never know if their photo is being used by bloggers without permission, but many people perform reverse image searches to find out if and where their intellectual property (IP) is being used.

Copyright claims aren’t petty

After being sued, some bloggers justify their use by downplaying the quality of the image they stole, but at the end of the day, theft is theft.

At first glance, it seems petty to sue bloggers over photographs that wouldn’t make the cover of a magazine in a million years. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the photographer would ever be able to genuinely make money from the disputed photo.

While it’s true that many photographs involved in copyright cases aren’t commercially viable, unauthorized use is still theft.

Bloggers: imagine someone stealing your blog posts

If you’re not yet convinced that copyright violations are serious business, consider how you’d feel if someone copied and pasted your blog articles onto their own blog. Imagine that person got one of those web pages ranked high in Google and started getting massive traffic and sales. Would you feel cheated? Like someone stole from you? 

That’s exactly how photographers feel when bloggers steal their images. Adding photographs to a blog post or web page increases the value and impact of that page. Photos contribute to the success of a web page, even if it’s not monetary gain.

Organizations need to implement strict copyright rules 

It’s critical to implement strict copyright rules that explicitly prohibit employees from using all intellectual property without permission. The rule should require employees to obtain a written license agreement or print a paid license and file that license for the record before publishing any piece of media they didn’t create.

This blanket requirement will prevent employees from claiming ignorance. For example, an employee might say they didn’t know the image wasn’t free to use, or they didn’t know it was copyrighted. 

To prevent accidental or intentional IP theft, all employees should be made aware of the following:

  • All images, audios, and videos are automatically copyrighted when they are created. No official registration is required. However, copyright owners must register their work prior to filing a lawsuit.
  • The copyright symbol © is not required to be displayed to prevent theft. Media without the copyright symbol is not free to use.
  • The CASE Act provides copyright holders with the means to pursue action outside of federal court, which means individuals can pursue claims without spending tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees. The CASE act will award damages up to $15,000 per incident and up to $30,000 in total.
  • You can opt out of participating in the proceedings under the CAE Act, but if you do, you risk being sued in federal court where you could be hit with $150,000 in damages per infringement.

Check out these copyright resources for more information

To learn more about copyright and how you can avoid violating someone else’s IP rights, read this thorough legal guide written for bloggers. The guide explains how copyright works along with how “Fair Use” works.

Rylie Holt