Core Copyright

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Copyright Myths & Misconceptions

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Before I delve into the substantive law and theory of U.S. copyright, I will address some common myths and misconceptions I have heard routinely about this topic. As I have outlined previously, copyright now is commonly applicable to people’s everyday actions. This wide applicability, however, has not necessarily resulted in the average Joe and Jane having a higher copyright IQ.

One need look no further than Twitter to see how many of these misconceptions get originated and repeated. I have seen tweets that claimed to copyright a hairdo. I have seen tweets that assumed the year’s passage would allow them to freely copy on Jan. 1 work that was protected by copyright on Dec. 31. (Both statements are incorrect.)

But folks on Twitter are not the only ones who commonly commit basic copyright errors. News journalists — who really should know better — frequently get basic copyright concepts incorrect. Too often reporters conflate copyright and other forms of intellectual property. Even intellectual property lawyers routinely provide incorrect information about U.S. copyright. For example, I have seen posts from intellectual property lawyers that claim “If you find a picture on Flickr, another blog, or somewhere else online and upload it to your own blog (or worse yet, inline link to it from your blog) without permission, you’re committing a copyright violation.” On its face, that is simply an incorrect statement, mainly because it fails to allow for a raft of limitations in the Copyright Act of 1976.

Thus, with this post, I address (and hopefully resolve) some of the common copyright myths I have seen, heard, or encountered in my years of dealing with this topic. Consider this to be the first in a recurring series: I will provide updates occasionally as I come across newer and more interesting or perplexing myths and misconceptions.

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