Blogging: A few Pointers on Copyrights

This post can also be found on Blog Azeroth.

You blog, you write, and therefore you produce Intellectual Property, which is copyrighted. How does it work in practice? Let’s find out.

Mandatory Disclaimer
I am not a lawyer. This post cannot constitute valid legal advice under any jurisdiction and doesn’t pretend to. I urge you to contact a lawyer licensed to practice in whatever jurisdiction is relevant to you if you are looking for said valid legal advice.

That being disclaimed, and without further ado, here are the few promised pointers:

1. Copyright Fundamentals

Intellectual Property is regulated by the Berne Copyright Convention, an international treaty which almost all countries have signed. The convention defines that a creative work is copyrighted by default the moment it is published unless explicitly stated otherwise.

This means, concretely, that you don’t have to register your blog or even every single post for it to be protected by international copyright laws – the content is yours by default.
Also note that this right is yours even if there is no copyright notice included. A notice simply serves to reinforce and remind everyone, including people unaware that any work is protected unless otherwise specified, that it is yours.
The correct and internationally recognized form for a notice is:
Copyright [dates] by [author / owner]

If you are blogging for a third party and being paid for that, the basic assumption is that what you write for that 3rd party is considered as Work-For-Hire, and that they, not you, are the copyright holder. Concretely, if you netted yourself a contract with WoWInsider or, unless something different has been specified in written between you and them, what you write for their sites is their ownership, not yours.
Conversely, if you have a guest blogger writing on your site for free, unless otherwise specified, whatever the guest writes is his intellectual property. It is also assumed that since the guest publishes on your site, that you retain an implicit license to use the material. Same assumption is also valid for the comments you get.

2. A Copyright is no Trademark

When someone (typically a corporation) is involved in a trademark dispute, whether they have taken action on other prior trademark violations or let it slide has a big impact on their case. Copyright is different. You could let 100 of copyright violations slide and still have the exact same case if you were to act upon the 101st. Or the 24th even if you have been letting it slide for years.

3. Fair Use

Although certain big media organizations have done their utmost best to limit or even fully eliminate Fair Use in recent years, the right still exists and allows someone to reuse excerpts from work copyrighted by third-parties without requesting explicit rights for the purpose of quoting it, exposing a point or teaching about it, or satyre. You can’t repost something in its entirety, add one line, and claim fair use, though. It is normally meant for small portions of a copyrighted work, not the work in its entirety.

4. Usage Rights

Beyond Fair Use, even a non-commercial reproduction of someone else’s work without the author’s consent is a copyright violation. There is two ways you as an author will typically grant permission:

  • Individual, per case basis
  • Wholesale licensing

Individual, per case basis is simple. People wanting to use your material have to ask you permission individually, and you grant them whatever rights are appropriate.

Wholesale Licensing simply implies declaring the rules under which anyone can reuse your intellectual property.

For instance, Blizzard Entertainment grants their players an unlimited non-commercial right to use their name and their screenshots, you should however include the text below somewhere on your blog if you do more than discuss about the game (that is, use material coming from WoW directly):

World of Warcraft™ and Blizzard Entertainment® are all trademarks or registered trademarks of Blizzard Entertainment in the United States and/or other countries. These terms and all related materials, logos, and images are copyright © Blizzard Entertainment. This site is in no way associated with Blizzard Entertainment®

That is an example of wholesale licensing.

There are other means to do wholesale licensing. The simplest way is to explicitly state on your blog what rights you grant third parties under what condition. The most practical is re-using existing licenses. For blogging, my own recommendation is that you investigate the Creative Commons licenses, as these aren’t just well suited for our purpose but also implemented in several complementary tools, widgets and plugins. Feedburner for instance can add your Creative Commons license to your syndication feed, and that’s just one among many examples.

5. Derivative Works

If you expand significantly upon the work of someone else, you will typically retain the rights to your own intellectual property, assuming of course that the original author has granted you permission to create such a derivative work in the first place. This is probably less directly applicable to blogging, it would mainly focus on, eg, AddOns you would be recoding or something. But WoW-comics or machinima ought to qualify as derivative works.

6. Defending your Rights

This is where it becomes tougher, because a lot of it will depend on where a copyright violator resides.
There are however a certain amount of steps and measures you can take no matter how without having to enter the court system right off the bat.
It is customary to first send a firm but professional communication to the offender, informing him that he is in violation of your copyright and that you demand the content to be removed. If it is someone who simply isn’t aware that there are rights attached to anything published on the web, he will usually say sorry and comply, or try to work out a way to reuse your material legally. If it’s a scrapper, he’ll probably ignore it, or just reply “hahah, whatcha gonna do about it?”
In that case, your next resort is to take it up with his host. Send the host a takedown notice where you declare you are the owner of said piece of intellectual property, and that such and such, hosted by their services, is in violation, and ask for their assistance to uphold your rights.
If the host is based in the US or an US corporation (hint, Blogger, hint), you can issue a formal DMCA takedown notice instead.
If this still doesn’t help, your last resort before court action is to write the upstream provider. Finding this one is a bit of work out of scope of this short overview, just know that your chances are a lot slimmer, as since they aren’t hosting the offending material themselves, you will have to ask for their kind assistance (and most of the time get a “sorry, we can’t help you here”).

At any rate, though, you can fully expect the major blogging platforms to honour your takedown requests after some basic delay, and at present, this is our first and best defense.

This concludes this short and limited primer. For further reading,  I recommend starting with Lorelle’s excellent posts on the matter, the one I just linked will lead you through a lot more material.

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2 Responses to Blogging: A few Pointers on Copyrights

  1. Galoheart (46 comments) says:

    A nice informative and very interesting post. After all we all write, use, post stuff.

  2. ithilyn (3 comments) says:

    Thanks for the post, very informative.