Written by Mark Havenner on February 12, 2010.
In light of Google’s decision to shut down six music blogs on Google’s properties Blogger and Blogspot for copyright infringement, there are perhaps many in the webiverse that are second guessing what they have on their sites. The fact is, it is extremely easy to violate copyright on the web and, increasingly, it is very difficult to know what the rules are.
To save brand managers and marketing and PR professionals the hassle of getting a law degree, following are three places where content can be found that is not bogged down with the threat of copyright litigation:
Flickr is arguably the leader of hosted web images on the web, although certainly sites like Picasa and SmugMug are certainly worth noting. Flickr’s unique feature of isolating “Creative Commons” licensed images, separates it from the pack. Creative Commons is a “copyleft” movement that attempts to put better controls on copyright law by allowing publishers to license their content however they choose. Some licenses are stricter than others, but each license makes very clear how the image, or work, can be used.
To use a photo or an image from Flickr on your blog or website, simply go to flickr.com and search for your picture. Click on “advanced search” and scroll down to the Creative Commons section. You can choose to look for pictures that you can use non-commercially, commercially, or with adaptation privileges. Then the resulting search will provide photos that you can, rest assured, use with the artist’s permission.
Note that even with Creative Commons there are limitations so be sure to read and understand the license. Most of the licenses under Creative Commons require that you attribute the source of the photo. Often a link back to the Flickr photo with the Flickr user’s name is sufficient. When in doubt, Flickr makes it easy for you to contact the source and ask how he, or she, would like to be attributed.
If you can’t find what you need on Flickr, Google has a photo search by Creative Commons as well. When you click on “advanced search” on the Google page you’ll see a selection about “usage rights” and you can easily choose your criteria from there before searching. This will pull up not only images, but also texts and blogs.
The search will return many Creative Commons licensed media, but also can include other more software-oriented licenses like the GFDL(GNU Free Document License) and things that are simply in the public domain. However, always check the source and make sure it explicitly releases those rights to you and, when in doubt, pass for something you are sure about.
3. Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is perhaps the largest online collection of public domain and freely licensed content on the web. One can read, download and email all the works of Shakespeare and Plato and listen to CD’s before downloading sheet music. There is so much content here, in fact, that it may difficult to sift through.
Gutenberg can be a resource for text, commentary, books and music, and each article explicitly details what is appropriate use of the content. Gutenberg boasts that its content can be used for “nearly all uses,” but there may be limitations that are detailed by entry.
The bottom line to copyright infringement is to use common sense. Resting on with the idea that you are safe under “fair use” rules is not stable ground. Fair use is often ambiguous, vague, and easy to argue. Free licensing and public domain are safe avenues because the usage is clear. There are many tools in place to determine if what you are using is okay or not.
If you don’t know the source and can’t determine the copyright than don’t use it, because it isn’t yours.