Copyright Issues When You Re-Blog Someone in Tumblr

By Michael Butler

In most circumstances, you cannot copy and distribute someone else's copyrighted works without prior permission from the copyright holder. However, Tumblr presents a unique issue with its reblog feature, in that it allows you to post anything on another Tumblr blog to your own Tumblr blog. Whether you can reblog something on Tumblr without infringing a copyright depends on the right the original poster has to the work.

Copyright

Copyright grants an exclusive right to an original work's creator to copy, distribute and make derivative works from the original work. The law literally answers the question "Who has the right to copy this work?" However, the law allows other people to infringe on the exclusive right if the infringement is fair. This is called the "Fair Use Doctrine." Section 107 of Title 17 of the United States Code sets out four factors to determine if the use of a copyrighted work is fair. Of particular importance on Tumblr is the third factor, which looks at the amount of the total work used and the importance of the portion used to the work. Since Tumblr posts tend to be short, they are often only pieces of a larger work. Reblogging a few lines from a movie script is probably fair use. Reblogging the entire script, isn't.

Original Content

If the original poster on Tumblr is the copyright holder in a work, you can reblog it on Tumblr without infringing copyright. Under Tumblr's terms of service, anyone who posts something on Tumblr grants Tumblr the right to copy and distribute the work and for other Tumblr subscribers to do so as well on the site. Thus, if someone posts a picture that she took, you can reblog it on Tumblr.

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Copied Content

If the original poster did not create the work posted, then you must determine whether she had the right to post it to know whether you can safely reblog it. If the original poster infringed copyright, you infringe copyright when you reblog something. You should determine whether the work is copyrighted and whether or not the original post is fair use before reblogging something. If you do reblog something on Tumblr without permission from the copyright holder, the copyright holder has the same legal remedies against you as against the original poster.

Other Issues

When you reblog a copyrighted work on Tumblr, you must reblog it with the same copyright notices as contained in the original post. Tumblr follows the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and will remove copyrighted content at the request of the copyright holder. The copyright holder can also elect to sue you for infringing her copyright. If the copyright holder sues Tumblr, under Tumblr's terms of service you must indemnify Tumblr for any monetary judgments, costs and attorneys' fees.

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How to Add Content to a Blog Without Copyright Infringement

References

Related articles

Types of Copyright Law

Originally, copyright law in the United States was protected by common law that originated in England. Later the U.S. Congress passed the Copyright Act -- found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code -- and amended it several times. The Copyright Act modified but did not repeal common law. In addition, the U.S. has signed copyright treaties with other nations. This legal background has given rise to several different types of copyright law.

How to Pursue Copyright Infringement

When someone copies your original work, such as a book or a song, without your permission, that individual has infringed on your copyright. An infringer might take credit for your work or may even earn income from it. In the United States, your original work of authorship is protected from the moment a tangible copy exists, so even if you don't formally register your copyright, you still have the legal right to pursue infringers. If you have registered your copyright, you'll have even more legal powers to pursue infringers, including the right to sue for statutory damages.

What Is Substantial Alteration of a Copyright Infringment?

When someone takes your original song, or your book, movie or film, and uses it without your permission, copyright infringement occurs. The infringer may just copy your original work outright or may create something similar to your work but altered. When two works are similar, but not identical, it can be difficult to distinguish permissible versus impermissible copying. Can you recognize your work in the second work? If so, are the two works substantially similar to the point of infringement? Or, is the new work so substantially altered that a new and valuable work has been created?

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