Last summer, blogger Rachel Kane hit the news when her blog, WTForever21, was threatened with a copyright infringement lawsuit from Forever 21, the store that Kane’s blog lampooned. Kane responded to this threat by sharing her situation through social media. According to an article on Forbes, “Kane says that…she appreciates the fact that the situation has gotten people talking about bloggers’ rights and fair use, a doctrine in American copyright law that grants limited use of copyrighted material without the copyright holder’s consent if that material is used for specific purposes, including commentary and criticism.”
Because Kane’s blog was protected by the fair use portion of copyright law, she was able to continue running her blog without further harassment from Forever 21. Not all bloggers are as lucky, however. Blog Law Blog keeps tabs on several cases involving bloggers, emphasizing that blogging can be risky if one isn’t careful.
The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright infringement as occurring when “a copyrighted work is
reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.” A copyright is a legal form of protection to the authors of original works whether they are published or not.
Diana Taylor is the author of the Michael Jackson Awakening Message blog, which is about Jackson’s message of love and altruism in his music. The graphics Taylor uses in this blog include graphics that coincide with the theme of her blog. Though the images are not hers, she says that she does mostly use photos that are public domain, which are works not protected by copyright and are free for use.
She adds that, when she does use copyrighted images or music, she makes sure she is “always careful to put a link back to the owner of the picture, to that person’s blog.” For example, “One particular blog that I like, she has a little thing over to the side that says she’s copyrighted, that if you use her photos, to link back to her, so that’s what I’ve always done.”
The best protection against copyright infringement lawsuits is to simply ask permission to use the photo or song. Then when you do get permission, follow through by appropriately attributing the owner.
It is just as important to make sure your own work has copyright protection. Ronald Mina, who runs MeNaSe Publications, a literature blog, says that he takes care to ensure that the works of original fiction published on his site are protected from theft and copyright infringement. According to him, he “makes a note on the site that the individual work is copyrighted to the authors.” In addition, “Every so often I Google my author’s work so that if someone rips it off ostentatiously…I can hunt it down. I also keep abreast of upcoming fiction and look for similar themes.”
Many blogs, such as the NYC Council, have suggestions on how to protect your blog from copyright infringement, including things like making clear the fact that the media on your blog is copyrighted to you.