As I mentioned in the last blog, as a blogger you need to look in both directions when it comes to intellectual property (“IP”). In particular, you should ensure that what appears on your blog – be it text, photos, or comments – does not infringe the IP rights of someone else.
Before you launch your blog, with your new blog identity, you should carry out trade mark searches to make sure your name, tagline and logo don’t infringe the registered trade marks of another person or company.
Public domain and copyright
Moreover, make sure the contents of your blog presence don’t infringe someone else’s copyright. Content is not necessarily in the public domain just because it is freely available to access on the Internet. Unless you have created the content yourself – for example, taken that photograph yourself – you cannot assume that it is not protected by copyright. In fact, you should usually assume the opposite.
Most content is protected by copyright and that copyright will only expire 70 years after the death of the author. While it’s true that there are exceptions which permit some use of protected material – fair dealing in the UK or fair use in the United States, these are limited in scope, as you will see below.
Use of stock images
These days, with search engines like Google, there are thousands of images online for bloggers to use in their blogs. However, make sure your use won’t infringe copyright by checking the terms of the sites you’re using. Do the licence terms cover your blog? For example, if you may only make non commercial use, and do have promotions or otherwise make your blog pay, then don’t download from a site that only allows non commercial use as doing so may well amount to unauthorised reproduction contrary to copyright law.
Fair dealing of copyright material
What happens if, as a blogger, I want to use material such as photo from a news event, or if I want to quote from an article, or book or even if I want to parody such material?
Well, assuming that the content you want to use is protected by copyright (which is likely), the general position, at least in the UK, is that the reproduction of a substantial part of a work amounts to copyright infringement. What constitutes a “substantial part” is a complex and large topic, and will differ in each case as everything depends on the particular facts. So, let’s not get bogged down here with the somewhat tricky issue of what amounts to a “substantial part”, and instead look at what the law permits by way of certain limited exceptions which constitute fair dealing in the UK.
Although there are a number of fair dealing exceptions, only a few are likely to be relevant to bloggers. These include (a) criticism and review, parody and quotation, (b) reporting of current events, and, (c) incidental use (which is not strictly fair dealing but convenient to mention here).
If you reproduce part of a copyright work – let’s say an online article – in order to criticise or review that work or another work, your use may qualify as fair dealing under the law in the UK. This same law also protects you when you feature a quotation of a work. However, it’s important to note that you may not freely reproduce a work if you want your use to be “fair”. So, reproducing an entire article on your blog is unlikely to be fair dealing. And the exception applies only to published works. Moreover, you must normally also include a sufficient acknowledgement of the original work.
The law in the UK also provides for fair dealing of third-party copyrighted material for the purpose of reporting of current events. However, photographs are excluded from this exception and so you cannot download and reproduce a photograph for the purpose of news reporting on your blog. While it might seem obvious, the events must be “current” and you must normally include a sufficient acknowledgement.
A blogger may also make incidental use of another’s copyright work without infringing copyright in that work. However, the law in the UK expressly excludes the deliberate inclusion of another’s music or lyrics. For example, you cannot add a song in the background of a video clip and claim that your use was incidental use if the song owner objects: it is not incidental use in this example because the music was included deliberately.
Creative commons licences
The last decade has seen the rise of open access forms of disseminating works known as Creative Commons (or (“CC”) licences. These provide for standard-form licences allowing members of the public to reuse a work in particular ways. Creative commons have sought to develop a suite of licences for many types of works.
The CC licences offers copyright owners a suite or menu of terms for using content. Some of these only allow reuse in an unmodified form. Some only allow reuse with attribution. Others only allow reuse for non-commercial purposes.
While CC licences have become extremely popular in recent years, the most common kind is the “attribution, non-commercial, non-derivative works” licence which only allows the user to reproduce, distribute, or play the work in a non-modified form, only for non-commercial purposes and with attribution of authorship. As a consequence, CC licences are generally better suited to users who do not seek remuneration from copyright.
Using other’s logos or trade marks
A question that often arises is to what extent people may include the brand logos or trade marks of others in blog content. In terms of logos – say, logos of famous companies such as Virgin, Barclays, or Coca Cola – the best advice is: “don’t” because most of brand logos are usually protected by both trade mark registration, and copyright. This means that any reproduction by you on your blog of another’s brand logo is potentially copyright infringement.
In contrast, the mere reference in your blog to a word trade mark – such as “BARCLAYS BANK” or “GAP” – is unlikely to amount to trade mark infringement. This is because, generally speaking, names do not enjoy copyright protection. Also, trade mark infringement is based on consumer confusion and so a mere reference to BARCLAYS BANK in your blog is not necessarily going to confuse your readers. That said, if your use is such that the relevant consumer might be led to believe that your blog is somehow connected to or supported by Barclays Bank, your use could potentially amount to trade mark infringement. So, when in doubt stick to merely referring to their brand names and avoid using other’s trade marks in such a way as to cause consumer confusion.
So, now that you have some basic insights into the IP laws, happy blogging!