Can We Copy & Paste Copyrighted Things?

By Craig Straub

The owner of a copyright has certain rights that are protected by civil and criminal law. For the owner to civilly enforce those rights in federal court, the copyright must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before the suit is brought. Criminal copyright infringement is prosecuted by the government while a civil suit is brought by the copyright owner.

Fair Use Exception

Assuming the copyright owner has a valid registered copyright, there still are legal exceptions which allow an image to be copied and used. The Fair Use Exception was created to allow individuals limited use of copyrighted material for commentary, criticism, satire, education or research. Courts will look at several factors to determine if the use was fair, such as the character of the use, factual or fictional nature of the work, if the work has been published, amount of the image that was copied, and any financial effect on the owner of the copyright. If you are merely copying an image for personal use and the image is published, courts will take this into account, but the other factors can be considered too. If you are making money by copying the image, a court is more likely to consider it an infringement. If you have changed the image or added commentary, it is more likely to be considered a fair use.

Owner's Consent

If the copyright owner has given you permission, like an assignment or license for certain rights, you can copy the image. Copyright owners can give others the right to copy an image for personal use, which is common on some websites.

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Civil Infringement Damages

Claiming that you copied an image innocently is not a defense; however, it may be taken into account for damages if you lose an infringement case. If you lose a civil case, damages can include any money lost from the copying of the image, attorney fees and statutory damages, which can be from $200 to $150,000 depending on whether the act is considered willful.

Criminal Infringement Damages

Criminal copyright infringement requires the person to willfully copy an image for commercial advantage or financial gain. This is established when the copied image has a reproduction or distribution value of more than $1,000 or was distributed on the Internet and intended for commercial distribution. If found guilty of criminal infringement, you can be punished by imprisonment and fines, which will depend on the amount of copies made and worth of the copied material.

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Most Frequent Copyright Violations


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Copyright laws protect creative works such as photographs, paintings, poems, books and essays. The copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to make and distribute copies, sell and perform works based on the protected work. However, there are some exceptions that allow others to use the copyrighted work without violating copyright laws, including an exception for fair use in classrooms.

DVD Copyright Rules

United States copyright law is designed to protect the rights of people who create artistic work and those who purchase the right to use such works. DVD copyrights may be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but a DVD does not have to be registered to be copyrighted. Copyright protection immediately flows to an item the moment it is created in some tangible form; a DVD is considered a tangible form.

What Are the Copyright Laws for Images?

Digital cameras and social networking sites have led to an increase in the volume of images across the media. Anyone who uploads images to a website, or who downloads or copies images created by others, should be aware of the importance of copyright. Copyright laws protect the creators of original works from unauthorized reproduction or copying and penalize those who fail to respect others’ copyrights. Chapter 17 of the United States Code contains the Copyright Act and the relevant laws.

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