In the old days of journalism, writers could rely on editors and large papers to ensure that they did not inadvertently violate copyright laws and to prevent the unauthorized use of copyrighted material. With blogging and other forms of new media, however, the individual has much more responsibility to protect herself. Bloggers are subject to U.S. copyright laws and must not infringe upon others' copyrights. They also own the rights to their own material -- even if they do not register these rights with the U.S. Copyright Office -- and should know how to protect those rights.
Many people mistakenly believe that items must be registered with the U.S. copyright office or contain a copyright symbol to be copyrighted. Any tangible item -- including photographs, essays, articles and other common Internet postings -- created by someone else is copyrighted at the time of creation, and the only question is whether the copyright owner will enforce her copyright. The fair use doctrine may exempt some items, but if you are unsure if your use qualifies as fair use, you should seek written permission from the item's creator. Similarly, if someone uses material from your blog without your permission -- unless the use is considered fair use -- you may send him a notice that he has violated your copyright. Copyright infringement can subject violators to severe civil penalties and, in some cases, criminal penalties.
Fair use is the use of copyrighted material for educational, reporting, research and other purposes. Generally, according to the textbook "Copyright: Examples and Explanations," you may quote a few lines of someone else's work if you are writing about the work. Similarly, another blogger may quote a few lines from your blog. Unfortunately, there are no firm rules about how many lines of quotation constitute copyright infringement, so you should err on the side of caution. Always attribute your sources, providing links to the original material when possible.
Items in the public domain may be used freely without violating copyright laws. Government documents -- including laws, court cases and government reports -- are public domain, and you may cut and paste these items into your blog. In the private sector, copyrights expire after an extended period of time, and when an item's copyright expires, it is considered public domain. According to "Copyright: Examples and Explanations," items published after 1978, copyrights expire 95 years after first publication or 120 years after publication -- whichever is shorter. Works published prior to 1978 expire 95 years after publication. If a new, altered edition of the work has been published, the copyright expiration date may be reset.
Creative Commons License
A creative commons license is registered through a nonprofit organization of the same name. Items licensed under creative commons have "some rights reserved" and typically allow more use than traditionally copyrighted items. You may license your blog under a creative commons license by noting its terms on your blog. Similarly, you may use items licensed under a creative commons license by following the terms of the license. These may include crediting the original source or using the work only for educational purposes. Some creative commons licenses allow you to use the material in its entirety without crediting the original source.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act cracks down on pirating and copyright violations. It allows Internet service providers "safe harbor," which gives them immunity from charges of copyright violation if they respond to notices of copyright violation. ISPs typically respond to these notices by removing the offending material. If you receive a DMCA notice from your ISP, you should either respond explaining why the item does not violate copyright laws or remove the material. If someone violates your copyright, you should send a DMCA notice to his ISP requesting that the offending material be removed.