Copyright is, in a nutshell, the right to copy. If you create something, you effectively own the rights to it. This applies to written words as well as various other artforms, including dance and music. The copyright is valid for a set number of years (depending on the item itself) and there can be severe repercussions if you breach copyright laws.
So what does copyright mean for your website?
How copyright works
When you create something, you automatically own the copyright. While there are various companies that will try and tell you to buy their services to ensure your work is copyrighted, you don’t actually need this. You don’t have to go through any special process to obtain copyright – but you must be able to prove that you created the work first.
Back in the good old days before computers had even been thought of, people used to send their content to themselves by recorded delivery. They would then have a date and time stamp of when it had been created, potentially protecting them from being the victim of copyright infringement.
Of course now, the internet automatically time stamps things so this isn’t as necessary, but there are still people who like to send their work to themselves, just in case.
What is classed as copyright?
There are some things that don’t count as copyright and you need to be careful you don’t cross the line. If you are copying something word for word, it is highly likely that you will be found in breach of copyright. You cannot, however, copyright facts. Because of this, you probably won’t be found in breach of the law if you rewrite a news story. The facts don’t change and they are not something that someone else came up with, so they can be rewritten.
Photographs are owned by the original photographer and not by the people who happen to be in the picture itself. Music and film can be more complicated because people own the copyright for different elements. If a book is being adapted into a film, the filmmakers must have permission from the people who own the copyright to the book.
Using other people’s content as inspiration
You cannot copyright ideas, so using other people’s content as inspiration is not against the law. However, you do have to be a little careful as to how you go about using your inspirations, so here’s an example to make it a little easier.
You could rewrite every sentence in the Harry Potter books and change the character’s name to Barry Potter because you hadn’t used exactly the same words. While you could claim that this was just fair dealing, there is an element of copyright law that includes passing off. If you try to pass off a piece of work, you can be in breach of copyright and you could also potentially be damaging the reputation of the existing book by trying to profit on the good name of the series. For that reason, rewriting all the sentences in Harry Potter and changing a couple of character’s names would see you in breach of the law.
Using images from the internet
Images are the area in which many people get confused. It’s easy to assume that any image that appears in Google images is free for use. However, this is not the case and you may be in breach of copyright if you use one. Google crawls websites to find images to display and they get the permission from the websites in advance before displaying them. If you then go and use that image on your website, you don’t automatically have the licence to use it.
Getty Images are one of the biggest image companies in the world and they have a programme that will find where their images are being used and then send the user a bill, usually of double the standard fee. While this might not sound unreasonable, this bill can be thousands of dollars, so proceed with caution.
Ultimately, the images belong to the photographer, whether they are in Google images, social media or any other platform. If you want to use them yourself, you need to get explicit permission from the owner and this will normally come at a cost. Bear in mind that most professional photographers have a set fee and if you choose to use an image without permission, they’ll send you a double bill. Don’t waste money; just get the permission first.
Impact on SEO
While copyright is actually a law that you need to abide by anyway, it can also impact on the SEO of your website as well. Taking content from other websites can leave you with duplicate content, making you look bad in the eyes of Google. You want to be creating unique content for your site, not ripping off that of other people. Take the time to come up with high quality content that is relevant to your site, rather than borrowing it from elsewhere.