Don't Get Cooks-Sourced: What Bloggers Need to Know About Copyright Law

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If you’ve spent any time in the blogosphere over the last 48 hours, you know that Cook's Source magazine is taking some serious heat for contending that publishers can lift copyrighted material without consequence.

The brouhaha erupted yesterday after Judith Griggs, editor of Cook's Source magazine, allegedly told a blogger that copyrighted content doesn’t qualify for protection if it’s published on the Internet. (Later reports suggest that a “flame-fanner” may have co-opted Griggs’s persona, adding fuel to the controversy.)

Whatever the case may be, there are consequences for the illegal use of copyrighted material. (Just ask the Minnesota mom who is facing a $1.5-million copyright infringement fine for illegally downloading and sharing 24 songs.)

While most bloggers aren’t being pursued by aggrieved (and deep-pocketed) music companies, anyone publishing on the Web should know these basics about copyright law.

Copyright Law Basics for Bloggers

It’s easy to copyright your work (applying a copyright symbol and date of first publication is a best practice), but if you want to sue for copyright infringement, you’ll need to register your work with the United States Copyright Office.

It’s not OK to steal content, particularly without attribution! Images count, so be careful.

Works that have entered the “public domain” don’t qualify for copyright protection; most creative works enter the public domain because their copyrights expire.

Not everything is subject to copyright. What’s not? Ideas, short phrases, and government works, for starters. There are also “fair use” exceptions. (Learn more here.)

What Should You Do If Someone Steals Your Work?

Verify and document the copying.

Send an email asking for proper attribution or for the material to be taken down.

If all else fails, resort to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s take-down procedures, or contact a lawyer to draft a “cease and desist” letter.

(If you want to learn more about copyright law and other legal issues facing bloggers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation offers great tips.)

Has your work ever been stolen? What did you do?

Though Hollee Schwartz Temple is a faculty member at West Virginia University College of Law, she isn’t giving legal advice in this column. Her forthcoming book, Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, will be published by Harlequin Nonfiction in spring 2011. Hollee blogs about work/life balance issues at The New Perfect.


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