Friday, October 24, 2014

Copyright? More Like Copy and Paste

Image by Glogster.
Have you ever broken copyright laws while searching for images to use in a project? The purpose of this blog is to inform you on how to avoid copyright infringement with a few easy steps. Though copyright pertains to music, movies, books, and other forms of fixed media, I have experienced difficulty with images. People should be careful while sharing images online because they could be breaking the law. Copyright is a difficult topic to understand. The vast spectrum of copyright does not draw a line between breaking the law as opposed to following the law. After learning more about copyright, I can now pick out situations where I have broken copyright laws.

Everyday, people use others' pictures without permission.There is one major test you can use to determine whether or not you are following the law: fair use. Government takes infringement seriously. Consequences for violating copyright laws can be major, leading to huge fines and even jail.

Caitlin Seida posted a picture on her personal Facebook account of herself on Halloween dressed up like a character from a video game, Lara Croft. Not knowing her privacy settings were off, she found her picture on a website that made fun of people of what they looked like and what they were wearing. Like Caitlin Seida, many of those pictures were of overweight people. Not only was posting her photo unethical and public embarrassment, this is an example of copyright infringement because the specific website did not confront Seida and ask permission to post the picture of her. If you were in Seida's position, being publicly ridiculed and finding a picture of yourself shared with many people which was only meant for your close friends, how would you try to solve this problem?
Image Courtesy of Kai's Blog

Fair use is trying to balance the right of the copyright holder and the public. Within fair use, there are eight factors: use in small amount, rework and use in a different way, use for nonprofit purpose, add new meaning and make it original, schoolwork and education, news reporting, criticizing or commenting, and comedy and parody. The first reason, small amounts, means to use small samples of the material. For example, you could use only 30 seconds of a copyrighted song or just the middle of a picture you found instead of the whole piece. The second reason is to rework the material. This corresponds with the third reason of adding new meaning and making it original. For example, the Obama “Hope” poster used an actual image for inspiration and changed the colors, the purpose, and the designs of it. The fourth exception is for nonprofit use. If you buy a song on iTunes and make it the background of a video you made, and used it for personal use only without profit, then you are not breaking the law. However, if you don't receive permission from the artist of the song and distribute your video online or to others (in addition, using the video for profit), then you are breaking the law. The last four exceptions are easier to understand and self explanatory. If you use copyrighted material for school or education, news reporting, criticizing or commenting, or comedy and parody, they you can claim Fair Use as long as you are not breaking the other four exceptions.

These videos below may or may not follow Fair Use. Do you think these videos are following Fair Use? Why?

Scary Mary Poppins Trailer 

A Fair(y) Use Tale

Even though there are exceptions to help you make copyright easier, the government takes copyright infringement seriously. If laws are broken, the owner of the material is able to charge fines and even send people to jail. If the infringement is large and serious, the fines can be up to $25,000 per piece of work or the jail time can be up to 5-10 years.

Many people with different opinions may argue that copyright laws don't make a difference and are irrelevant because it happens many times a day and the government does not punish all citizens. For example, Joel Tenenbaum was charged with $670,000 for illegally downloading 30 songs and sharing them with others. He was caught for infringement but not all people are caught with infringement. For example, someone using YouTube mp3 to download songs onto their computer might not get caught for their infringement. Another counterexample is that copyright laws disrupt the convenience of the internet, meaning if the pictures are on the internet, then they should be for the public domain.

In response I could state that even though people violate laws everyday there are organizations,websites, and people that are trying to stop infringement and piracy. For example the website has stopped 1,226,708 infringements just on photos since August 31, 2014. With infringement, many times people in the society or the artist of the material call out the infringers and bring the problem,if big enough, to court. I would also argue that copyright laws are no different than any other law like speeding laws. Many people drive over the speed limit and the consequences are a ticket with a fine, but some people are also able to speed without getting a ticket. Similarly, many people break copyright laws and are fined or imprisoned for their actions, but some people are able to get past the laws. In response people would still argue that speeding causes danger towards others. Similarly, copyright causes danger also. For example, Caitlin Seida's picture was shared publicly to the whole world when she was only trying to share her picture with her personal friends. This puts her personal identity and self confidence in danger because of the public ridicule. This quote from her article shows the negative impact she received from this example of copyright.
"We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded –– and took my heart with it." 
Many times, big copyright cases with hundreds of thousands of dollar fines, suspension, or even jail can act like a warning to others to make sure they are following copyright laws effectively. This example shows how copyright is just as important as any other law.

One way to stop copyright infringement is by making technology and sources easier to follow copyright laws. For example, search engines could make their settings easier to search for images for the public domain instead of all images. Right now, google is set up to search for all images (even copyrighted) and the settings to change the search results to "labeled for reuse" takes a few steps. Even though it only takes a few steps, many people do not know how to get there and what the settings mean. Another way could be to block copyrighted images on websites. For example if you went to website on how to make a cake and there is a copyrighted picture of a cake, then the website would not allow you to drag the picture to your desktop or a document. The last way could be to put copyright symbols on copyrighted images that are not in the public domain. This could enforce users to pay for the image first or get permission from the owner. This would also enforce users to credit the author, illustrator, artist, etc to use their work. These techniques could help reduce the amount of copyright infringement.

Have you ever been in a situation where you/ you witnessed copyright infringement happen? Now knowing about Fair Use, how would you deal with the problem?



Updated 13 November, 2014

Conclusion: Being careful while using copyrighted images is an important concept of digital citizenship. Images that belong to a specific owner should deserve credit for their work. Although this would be the ideal, it does not always happen in the media world. The eight points I stated before were made to help people avoid copyright infringement. As the author of this blog, I hope I was able to simplify such a complex topic. As for the comments, many of the comments stated how specific parts of my blog were useful facts and information. None of the comments countered my thesis, but some definitely asked questions to further the discussions. Instead of these questions changing my mind, or clarifying the issue, it resulted in me researching more about their topics. Commenting was a big part of blogging that is different from normal school writing. This being the first time blogging, I found that the style of writing was much more casual and more like a conversation. While still trying to convince, persuade, and make your point, the blog was able to be more personal due to the informal writing style. I thought the preparation towards the final draft was stressful because my topic choice was so vast and related to multiple subtopics that I didn’t necessarily want, but once the “Publish” button was pressed, all my preparation work was shared with everyone. I thought the process of seeing my number of views slowly increasing also added to the experience. Along with that, commenting, having a friendly dialogue with other people and sharing opinions made the experience more interactive. Overall, my first blogging experience was enjoyable!


  1. I loved your analysis of the Caitlin Seida case, Casey K. I think you did a great job understanding and commenting on how it relates to copyright. I have to ask; What do you think about copyright cases concerning music? I think that this is one of the most tricky copyright topics because of the difference between inspiration and straight up stealing. For example, rappers sample each other’s beats to get ideas for their own beats. It is almost impossible to draw the line at the point where innocent sampling becomes a copyright infringement.

    Here is a list of some major music copyright cases:

    1. Hi Hayden! Thank you for your complement and question! I agree, copyright is a very tricky topic especially with music. Most of my research was based on pictures but all the rules can still apply to music. Two main factors that can apply to music are to use in small amounts, and for non-profit use. By saying this, I do not mean that the other rules do not apply, but these two factors will help you the most in determining if you are following the law. If you use small portions of a song, and you don't sell the new section you just made, I believe this is fair use. I agree that rappers sample each other's beats. If they are not directly coping the beats and just using them as inspiration, again I believe it is an example of fair use. I also agree with the statement on how it is almost impossible to draw the line between copyright infringement and fair use, but using the 8 factors when in a tricky situation will help you avoid infringement!

  2. Casey K.,
    Wow! This is such an interesting and well-written blog post! I thought that this was a fascinating topic, and I found the Caitlin Seida case really interesting. Do you think that copyright is slanted in favor of the government or rich people? Average people, like Caitlin Seida, who have something copied from them may not be able to go to court or get the material back. This is a great article. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Abigail, thank you for sharing your opinion!
      I think copyright is slanted in favor for both the government and wealthy people. I think it also depends on the case. For example, if a person knows the infringer is wealthy, they would probably try to sue the infringer for money. One way Caitlin Seida was able to stop the copyright issue was going to the source of the infringement. I think that if this happens to you, going to the source of the infringer is a good choice. Because she went to the infringer, she was able to stop further embarrassing posts of herself.
      Thank you for your comment!

  3. Casey, this blog showed that I am a common criminal, well sort of. I have broken this copyright law without ever realizing I had. It is, like you said, a very difficult topic to grasp and completely and fully understand. It is insane how many lawsuits can be held against you for copyrighting something, even if you didn't know you where doing it. It is an expensive fine to pay. So much stuff is copyrighted and it is hard to know if it is or isn't. How are ways of being able to tell what is the original and what is not? Thanks for allowing me to have a deeper understanding of this crazy copyright thing.

    1. Hi Olivia! I am glad I was able to make this crazy topic a little more clear for you! To answer your question, the second to last paragraph of my blog talks about this issue a little bit. The paragraph explains different ways users could know if images are copyrighted or not. I believe that not knowing if the image is copyrighted or not is one of the main reasons why infringement happens. To stop this, websites could make it easier for users to only use public domain images. If not this, then requiring a caption for the picture, sourcing the author. Wouldn't you want to be credited if you copyrighted an image?

  4. Casey,
    I found your essay to be very thorough and informative. It also gave me a good scare and definitely serves as strong warning to us all! There are so many shades of grey in terms of how one can overstep on someone's materials. Seems when it is on the internet, it is free for all; and with today's technology, copying/paste and screen shooting images is easily accessible. Your outline on how one can have fair use of materials by editing and limiting video to 15 is very useful. I guess getting people to really follow this guideline is the challenging task. However, it will definitely serve as a good starting point to understand the copyright law. Thank you for your blog!

    1. Teri S.,
      I agree that the hard part of copyright is to get people to follow the rules. I think one way is to put yourself in the creator's shoes. Wouldn't you want credit for work that is being spread potentially all over the world? Like you stated, many guidelines like using only a portion (15-30 secs) of a video and editing it makes the idea of copyright much simpler!
      Thank you so much for the comment!

  5. This article simplified a complex topic. Going forward I will think twice when uses images.

  6. Sharon,
    Thank you for your comment! I am glad I have made such a large and vast topic easier to understand!


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