Blogging & Copyright Law In 2020: Stay Protected With Our In-Depth Guide
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As a blogger, you put your heart and soul on the web on a regular basis. Whether you’re providing information, research, opinion, or entertainment, you likely spend a lot of energy making high-quality posts.
The same goes for all the tangential content you produce to enhance your blog like videos, ebooks, and courses. It’s natural that you want to protect your hard work against theft so it helps to be familiar with how copyright works.
In this post you’ll learn about intellectual property concerns that relate specifically to bloggers:
- What can you, as a blogger, copyright?
- Do you need to register your blog (or a post) for it to be protected?
- How can bloggers register for copyright?
- What’s “fair use?”
- How does copyright work if you’re blogging under a pseudonym?
- What’s the DMCA and how is it related to copyright infringement?
- What to do if you believe someone has stolen your content
- How do copyrights work internationally?
- What can you do if someone accuses you of IP theft?
Just so we’re clear upfront: we’re not lawyers so nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice. Our main goal is simply to answer common questions bloggers may have about their rights and to direct you to other resources that can help you.
Copyright Laws Do Protect Bloggers
Copyright is legal protection of a created work, also called intellectual property (IP). For bloggers, that means your blog posts are protected as well as other content you create for your blog — like ebooks, music, videos, software, podcasts, and photos — provided that you’re the creator of it.
Although ideas can’t be copyrighted, the way they’re expressed can be protected. To be copyrightable, content must be in its final form. That means your post entitled, Baseball Statistics Expressed as Poetry is copyrightable but neither baseball statistics nor poetry belong exclusively to you.
Should Bloggers Register for Copyright?
Once a piece of IP is produced in its final form (for bloggers, this means hitting the “Publish” button) its author automatically receives protection under US copyright laws. The protection is instantaneous with publication and no official copyright registration is necessary to claim your ownership of the content. In fact, you don’t even need the little circled-C symbol © to indicate your ownership.
Although bloggers aren’t required to file an official copyright registration, you may wish to do so. That’s because you can’t sue for copyright infringement unless you’ve officially registered your work. Short version: no registration, no lawsuits.
Can You Register a Copyright for Your Entire Blog?
Yes. However, only the posts published through the registration date are protected. Any posts published after that date will require additional registrations.
For practical purposes, this means you’ve got two choices for copyright registration:
- You can regularly send in registrations for your entire blog (e.g., monthly or yearly).
- Or you can register your most important posts or other content as you create them.
Can Bloggers Protect Their IP Without Registering?
Yes. Although you’re automatically protected, it doesn’t hurt to put in place various reminders to that effect on your blog. Here are some practical steps you can take to remind others that your work is protected:
- Include the copyright symbol © on each page of your site, along with your name and date.
- Create a special page about your reposting policies. You don’t need legalese – just clearly state what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t with regard to reposting your content.
- Sign up for a Creative Commons license.
- Configure your RSS feed so that it only shows summaries of your posts.
- Use Google alerts, searches, or a plagiarism site to notify you of plagiarized content.
- Add watermarks to your visual content indicating your name and website.
- If you discover that your IP has been stolen, you can issue a DMCA takedown notice (more on how to do this below).
How Can Bloggers Register for Copyright?
There are two of ways to register your blog’s various IPs with the US Copyright Office.
- Online: The online method through the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) is optimal for bloggers since your content is already digitized and ready for upload. Other benefits of registering online instead of using paper forms include a lower filing fee, faster processing, and status tracking. You’ll also need to upload the content you’re copyrighting.
- Paper Forms: You’ll need to download, complete, and then print the registration forms and then mail them along with a computer disc containing your content or a printed version of it.
What Is “Fair Use?”
“Fair use” is a term bloggers should learn since it affects both their own blog content and content belonging to others which they might wish to use. Fair use means that it’s okay to use someone else’s work for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, or research, as long as it’s validated after consideration of the four factors below. The four factors relating to fair use are described in detail on the US copyright’s website, but here’s a quick rundown:
- What you’re using the content for — Fair use takes into account commercial or nonprofit use and whether you’re adding something new to the original IP.
- The nature of the content — Using someone else’s content creatively can violate fair use more often than using it for factual work (like reviews).
- How much content you’re using — Using large quantities of someone else’s work within your own content can impact fair use more than small amounts.
- How your use impacts the value of the original work — If your use of the content displaces sales of the original work, you’ll run afoul of fair use.
Keep in mind that fair use also applies to your own content that others may criticize, comment, or report on.
How Does Copyright Work If You’re Blogging Under a Pseudonym?
So what happens if you’re writing a blog to support books written under a pseudonym — or for some other reason you’re not blogging under your real name? There’s good news and bad news about pseudonyms. The good news is that, yes, you can copyright your original works produced under a pseudonym. The bad news is that the length of time your copyright remains in effect is shorter than it would be if you registered it in your real name.
- Under your real name: Copyright lasts for the duration of your life plus 70 years.
- Under a pseudonym: Copyright lasts 95 years from the work’s first publication date or 120 years from its creation date, whichever is shorter.-
What’s the DMCA and how is it related to copyright infringement?
DMCA is an acronym for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a US law that protects digital copyrights, including the intellectual property of bloggers. The DMCA came into law as digital music pirating became epidemic in the 1990s. The new law gave musicians and music publishers a process whereby they could stop illegal sharing of their music.
What’s a DMCA Takedown Notice?
The main instrument of DMCA enforcement is called a “DMCA takedown notice.” Although it may sound counterintuitive, the thief isn’t the recipient of a takedown notice. Rather, the platform on which the stolen content is housed is notified that it is legally liable for “taking it down” off their servers.
It may help to think about the DMCA law as similar to the laws against selling any type of stolen merchandise. For example, a pawn shop owner can be arrested for selling stolen merchandise — even if the shop owner had nothing to do with the theft or had no idea it had been stolen.
What to Do If You Believe Someone Has Stolen Your Content
If you believe someone has taken credit for or otherwise used your content illegally and you’re both in the US, you can invoke the DMCA to bring order to the universe. Despite what most people think, most digital thefts aren’t typically settled by lawsuits. In fact, pricey lawyers are usually the last resort. In most cases, it suffices to notify the offender in writing that you own the copyright for the content in question and politely ask them to take it down.
However, if you’ve notified the offending party and they refuse to acknowledge your copyright to the material, you can issue a DMCA takedown letter to the third party hosting the work. In many cases, your letter will go to the offender’s web hosting company.
What to Do If Someone Accuses You of IP Theft
Being on the other side of a DMCA takedown notice is unpleasant, to say the least. If you’ve unwittingly reposted someone’s content without attribution, your first clue may be in the form of an email from the copyright holder. If, instead of contacting you directly, the alleged author first issues a DMCA takedown request to your web host, it can be a shock. In either case, the quickest way to solve the problem is to comply with their wishes and remove the content from publication.
On the other hand, if you believe that you are the sole creator and owner of the content, it’s probably best to get some legal advice. You can also check our resources section below for more in-depth articles online.
How Do International Copyrights Work?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. Every nation has its own laws and the methods and enforcement of copyright across all of them is fairly complex. However, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) exists to educate and elicit international cooperation about how copyright works between countries so it’s a great place to start looking at your options.
If you hold a US copyright and your content was stolen by a site owner outside of the US, things can get a bit confusing. In this case, you’ll definitely want some legal advice about how to proceed.
If your content is located outside the US and was stolen by someone who resides inside the US (or content is hosted within the US), then US copyright laws apply and you can issue a DMCA takedown request.
The Golden Rule
Most bloggers wish to achieve great things with their blogs. However, it’s useful to know that fame (or notoriety) can leave you at the mercy of digital thieves looking to make a quick buck off of your hard work. Although you don’t need to be paranoid, it’s good to know which avenues for redress are available to you if someone does try to nab your stuff. Additionally, the golden rule applies when considering using someone else’s work on your blog; treat their work as you would have your own work treated.
- How to Copyright Your Entire Blog
- DMCA Generator Tool
- The Ultimate Guide to Copyright
- US Electronic Copyright Office (eCO)
- Information about International Copyright Laws
- Copyright Registration for Online Works [PDF]
- WordPress.com’s Guide to Preventing Content Theft
- Creative Commons Licensing
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)