What Is Copyright Infringement? Part 1
Copyright Q&A: Part 1
The rules of copyrighting can be nuanced, and sometimes whether something is copyright infringement or fair use isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like. This brief copyright Q&A addresses some of the common misunderstandings about copyright infringement.
Q. Can I publish my Spanish translation of an English book?
A. If the original novel was copyrighted, and if that copyright has not yet expired, your translation would be what is known as a “derivative work,” defined as something that incorporates or is based on a previously existing copyrighted work. Because you could not have created your Spanish version of the book without the original English version, your work is a derivative work, and the right to create derivative works is one of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights.
Q. If I find a picture on the Internet but I don’t know who the author is, can I just put it on my website?
A. You certainly can, but by doing so, you run the risk of infringing on someone’s copyright.
If the picture is not in the public domain, the copyright belongs to someone. Most artists that post their artwork or photography online also include contact information; if you don’t see any information specifically regarding image rights, try sending the artist an email to ask whether you can use that person’s intellectual property in the way that you intend.
However, in cases where the image has been re-posted from its original location, the original source may not always be clear (especially because, since a copyright symbol is not required, you may not be able to tell just by looking at a work if it even has an owner). In many of these cases, the re-poster may be infringing on the author’s copyright him- or herself, in which case you’d have to do some more digging to find the rightful copyright owner and ask for permission to use the image (and, perhaps, to ask them if they’re aware that their image has been used on the site on which you found it).
Bottom line: you cannot assume that any unattributed image you find is free to use. You can be sued just as easily for improperly using copyrighted material whether or not the artist’s information is readily available.
Q. If I find a picture on the Internet, can I re-post it on my own website as long as I credit the author?
A. In some cases, yes . . . but in most others, no. Some copyrighted works carry a Creative Commons license, something that works alongside a copyright by providing a license to use the material—without the extra step of needing to obtain permission—with the provision that anyone using the material credits the rightful owner of the intellectual property. (Varieties of this license have other requirements, but the free-for-all idea is the same.) Works that contain a Creative Commons license will have this symbol on or around the work:
However, if you do not see the Creative Commons logo listed on the work, assume that you need to ask permission, unless you determine that it is in fact in the public domain.
[This two-part Q&A series continues in “What Is Copyright Infringement? Part 2.”]