What is copyright? In basic terms, copyright is a law that protects the original works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used without permission. In the United States, an original work is under protection of copyright upon creation until 70 year after the creator’s death.
Copyrights give the original creator the right to present, sell, replicate, or change their work, as they deem acceptable. Others must obtain permission from or give proper credit to the creator of the original work to use or modify the original work in their works. Technically, a copyright becomes valid once the original work is created and used in some form of display (e.g., posting an image to your online portfolio). It is important to note that you don’t necessarily have to publish the work or register it to own its copyright; however, you cannot legally file an infringement of copyright unless the work is registered.
What is Copyright? About Fair Use
Fair use rules basically establish a set of conditions to define when the use of copyrighted material is acceptable such examples include criticism, commentary, parody, news reporting, research and teaching. U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use
There are six basic questions to consider when deciding whether or not to use another person’s work:
1 – Are you copying material or using it to create something new?
- If you are simply copying material, then as you can guess, that would not be categorized as fair use.
If you are using part of the material to create an entirely new work of art, this may be considered fair use.
2 – Are you a direct competitor with the creator of the original work you’re copying from?
- If so, you must obtain consent to use the other person’s copyrighted work. It is a general rule that you cannot impair the market for the other person’s work.
3 – Is giving the original creator credit enough to be deemed as fair use?
- When considering “what is copyright?” understand that it is first and foremost protection from re-use. It is not necessarily true that if you credit a person’s work, it can be used.
4 – How much of an original work is being used?
- The more material you take, the less likely it is that your use will be a fair use. As a general rule, never include an illustration or other artwork in any media without the artist’s permission.
5 – What is the purpose of the copyright usage?
- Basic copyright laws allow the usage of another person’s work to use for items such as reviews, education, and biography.
6 – Have you considered the golden rule?
- As the golden rule states, you should take only from someone else what you wouldn’t mind someone else taking from you.
What is copyright? Tips for protecting your work
It can be tricky for designers to protect their work in the digital world. The Internet makes it very easy to click an online image and save it. For the most part, when someone does this they are either uneducated about copyright or being dishonest. Further still, some people consider everything on the Internet to be up for grabs. When it comes to understanding “What is copyright?”, people must learn that information on the Internet is not necessarily public property.
Here are some ways to protect your work on the Internet:
- Add the copyright notice in small type to all images you post (e.g., © 2012 Your Name). Having the copyright notice on your home page is not enough.
- Reduce image sizes for online viewing. If you lower the image resolution (e.g., to 72 dpi with 400 pixels or less), it makes the images harder to re-use.
- Use electronic watermarking to protect your images and provide copyright information. These watermarks contain data that can be detected by popular graphic design programs and will notify viewers that your work is copyright protected.
- Post a notice on your home page asking others to get your permission before linking to your page.
- Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of making it accessible to the public.
What is Copyright? How to register your work
Because you can’t use the courts to protect your work unless it is registered, you may want to register anything you intend on making public. Again, this should be done within three months of making it public for entitlement to attorney fee recovery and statutory damages. If you file your registration after the initial three months, you will only be entitled to damages you can prove.
Steps to register your work:
- Contact the U.S. Copyright Office by calling (202) 707-3000 or by visiting the online site.
- Ask for or find the “Form VA.” This is the form to complete for visual arts.
- Complete and submit the appropriate form(s). The cost is about $65 to register each work.
- Keep copies of everything and keep on file.
Note that it takes approximately three months to process forms that were e-filed and ten months to process paper forms.
When designing I always use my own original designs and compare them to any research I did to make sure my work is original and different. Advanced Tip: If you are worried about and image you posted on a web page, try using TinEye to help you find other copies of the image out on the web.