There is a widespread misconception that the Internet is public domain, and that if it is on the Internet then it is free for all to use. But the fact is quite the opposite, and you should regard everything on the internet as copyrighted, unless specifically stated otherwise.
The Internet is NOT public domain, it is merely a place to publish work so that it is publicly accessible, which is something totally different.
It must be noted that countries do vary slightly in legal matters, and what may be allowed in the UK may not be allowed in the USA, and vice-versa.
The following is only a very brief summary of a quite complicated matter. The simple golden rule is that if you are not absolutely sure about the copyright on a piece of work, then either contact the author for clarification/permission or do not use it.
I’m sure that everybody has heard of “copyright”, but not everybody fully understands the actual concept of something being copyrighted.
Copyright is a legal term that gives exclusive rights to an author for their original work. These exclusive rights give the copyright holder the power to choose who is allowed to copy, share, distribute or adapt their work. Permission, when granted, should be given in writing and in the form of a license, laying out the exact terms of agreement in the manner that the work may be used.
Copyright applies to a wide range of works. However, copyright does not cover ideas or the information itself, but merely the manner in which they are expressed. For instance, copyright can protect literary works including articles, stories, poems and plays; images are also included, such as photographs, sculptures, drawings and other artwork, even website design. Basically, copyright applies to any medium.
One myth is that if there is no copyright notice of sign then it is not protected. ALL work is protected, whether or not there is a copyright notice. However, it is always a good idea to show a copyright notice, which acts as a reminder to others.
Nor can you take something, change it and then claim it as your own.
Copyright is automatic and you do not have to apply for it. However, if your work is copied without your permission and it goes to court you must be able to prove that you are the author of the original work.
For more information on copyright visit the Intellectual Property Office
Within copyright law there is a small amount of leeway for “fair use”, which has also been known as fair practice, free use and fair dealing. However, this must be used with great caution as there is not clear definition of what constitutes fair use and it is quite a complex matter.
In defining what fair use is, there are four non-exclusive factors can be taken into account:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Typical fair uses of work can include incidental inclusion, usage for the purpose of reporting news, quotation of excerpts in a review or critique, copying part of a work by a teacher or student to illustrate a lesson or within education.
In cases of fair use, credit should be given to the author.
The term “public domain” refers to works where the copyright has expired, been given up or are irrelevant. Generally, copyright stands for 70 years after the death of the author. After that period of time the copyright expires and the works become public domain and available for anybody to use.
However, there are exceptions to this rule as copyrights can be transferred or owned by a corporation rather than one individual. So it must never be automatically believed that copyright has expired. Some authors willingly give up their work and place it in the public domain for free use. Should this be the case then it will be stated on the website or the page concerned.
Works that are in the public domain can be freely copied, distributed and adapted.
“Creative commons” is a non-profit organisation that came about in 2001. Creative Commons is accepted as a license by the author to share specific work but with conditions. There are 6 key licenses in how the work may be shared, and usually indicated by the letters:
- Attribution (CC BY)
- Attribution Share Alike (CC BY-SA)
- Attribution No Derivatives (CC BY-ND)
- Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC)
- Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA)
- Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND
The difference between Public Domain and Creative Commons (CC) is that with CC the author retains copyright and is merely giving a free, but restricted, license for people to share, copy and distribute specific work.