Copyright Violation 101

Most of us, either as bloggers, or writers, or Facebook users or Pinterest addicts, are pretty unaware of what copyright violation REALLY means.

One would think that copyright means someone has filed for legal paperwork, and if something is created and copyrighted, it has a © mark on it telling us so.

This is COMPLETELY false. I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops for quite a while.  Please note: I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever played on TV, but I plan to send this blog post to my literate lawyer friends to ensure I have the facts right. I’ll get back to you on that.

IF SOMETHING HAS BEEN CREATED BY SOMEONE ELSE, it belongs to them. PERIOD. There is a little thing called Fair Use, but Fair Use is a doctrine, NOT a law. Therefore, you can still be sued by the copyright owner, who automatically RECEIVED a copyright when they created the picture/photo/book, etc.

I had an author get onto a FB group I had created, designed to help indie authors connect with professionals to help them get the job done right, and innocently ask if an image she uploaded to the group was copyrighted, because she wanted to use it for her cover.

It was from High School Musical. Disney does not look kindly upon copyright infringement.

Now, we can all laugh at her, and say “I would never do that,” but that is a very blatant colorful example of violation of copyright. And once upon a time we were all like that, too. The others are a little more gray…. Everyone, or almost everyone, knows you don’t get to take a High School Musical picture, mess with it, and then call it yours.

But it’s just not that simple. I violate copyright EVERY SINGLE DAY, when I post all those FB pictures and memes. I bet you do, too. And even though they are MEANT to be used that way, and for the most part, the creators want them shared, should they decide to sue you, THEY CAN. It’s much better to LINK to someone’s work.

Yes, you can miss that visual image, and a picture is worth a thousand words, but if the picture belongs to someone else then you better not go into their house and steal it off the wall.

If you violate copyright, that is what you are doing.

So here is an easy way to remember the dos and don’ts of copyright violation.

IF SOMEONE ELSE CREATED IT, IT IS THEIR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. It is automatically copyrighted. It’s that simple.

So, are you going to get sued if you are taking pictures off the Internet and using them on your blog, or posting them to FB, or sharing pictures one of your twelve million friends sent you? Most likely not. The majority of that stuff was created expressly for that purpose. The important thing to remember is that YOU COULD get sued.

Here is one author’s story of what happened to her. I really like that Roni does not try to turn this on someone else. She accepts responsibility, and is honest about her reason for doing it. She didn’t KNOW it was wrong. When I first started out, I didn’t know it was wrong either. That is what most people are doing, and it’s meant in an innocent way. But it doesn’t make YOU innocent.

Two of the biggest copyright violators (a group) are all of us who share pins on Pinterest or Tumblr, or FB. Personally, I believe Pinterest and Tumbler are the worst, set up for copyright violation at the touch of a button. First you start with innocently repinning someone’s pictures, then you move to stealing video snippets and posting them on Tumblr, and these become the gateway to get you outright STEALING people’s artwork or writings. Heh. Okay, not really, but you get my point.

So, what can you do and what can you not do? Here’s a few important things to know about copyright and copyright violation.

At the bottom, I am including a clip of a video Dancing Daughter did for a scholarship contest. It was mostly about music, so it’s focused on that, but it DOES get the point across. She did not win, damn them. Oh, just so you know, saying “damn them” does not constitute copyright violation. Also, I can call DirecTV DirecTV from the Devil all I want, because they have not yet acknowledged their assignation with Beelzebub and thus it is not copyrighted.

1. Google Images is NOT a stock art site. Those images pretty much belong to other people. Don’t take them or use them.

2. Stock art sites are great, but they are not intended for you to quickly download a picture from them, using right click save as, and then Photoshop out the watermark on them (usually quite poorly). The WATERMARK is there as a very clear indicator that THIS is a copyrighted image, and you have not purchased it.

3. There are numerous stock art sites (and I will list them below) on which you can purchase photographs or vector images and illustrations, and have the legal license to use on your blog, your book cover, or wherever. It is best to READ the license before you use the image. Some are intended for editorial use only, while others are pretty much fair game for whatever you want to do, aside from threatening the President of the United States.

4. Taking the image and ALTERING IT does not change the fact that you have stolen someone else’s work and then tried to disguise it. In fact, it makes it even more seedy.

5. Works in the public domain are not covered by copyright, and are fair game. How do you know if it is in the Public domain? Here is a nifty little chart. Please note, I did not post the chart on my blog, I merely provided a link. Therefore I am not violating their copyright.

6. There are works in the Creative Commons that are usable, but these have licenses, and you need to ensure you are FOLLOWING the rules of the license before you use them.

7. Other than Public Domain or Creative Commons, you either have to CREATE the art yourself, or have express written permission to use it. You can take your own pictures and use them to your heart’s content. You can buy stock art, and use it to your heart’s content and under the licensing regulations that come with the stock art.

8. Music and writing have the same rules as artwork. Don’t take a Van Halen song and put it on your homemade book trailer with your High School Musical book cover. You might as well send them a letter saying “please sue me.”

Music can also be purchased, as can video snippets for book trailers, along with sounds and wavs.

Here is where you can view the clip of Dancing Daughter’s copyright violation video. (Damn them. She needed that scholarship! Heh.) Um, Fluffy is five, so we don’t really think she will grow up to be a criminal.

And here are some sites where you can purchase stock images, video, and audio.
I am listing them in order of my preference, with cost as a concern.

1. Excellent selection. Fair prices for single images. Medium cost for monthly packages.

2. Pretty good selection. Some hokey shots (I call it “death by stock art”), but overall a good site. This is where I have my monthly subscription because it is fairly priced, I can download five images of any size every day, and I can almost always find what I want.

3. Excellent photos and selection. RIDICULOUSLY overpriced. I won’t pay their prices. However, there are many excellent photographers that contribute here, and on Getty Images, and some of their stuff is not available anywhere else. If you REALLY found something you wanted, and it was not available anywhere else, well, you can buy it. I’m not saying it’s not worth it. It’s just not something I can do. These photographers and designers are talented. They deserve to be paid for their work.

4. Shutterstock. Kind of spendy, but nice images. I would put them just below istockphoto in pricing. I have never used them. There are many others, but I’m not going to name them all.

5. Now, Getty Images also offers video clips, music, audio clips, news clips, etc. Again, Getty Images is aligned with istockphoto, and they are among the most expensive images. But they have a great selection.

6. I personally have signed up for, because they have a very reasonable yearly fee, and while I can’t find everything I want, I can find enough.

To sum this all up, if someone else created it–whether it be art, photography, music, writing, a blog post–it BELONGS to them. You cannot use it without permission, or you are in violation of copyright laws.

My friend, Renee, who is an amazing cover designer ( had a few more comments that I felt were relevant to this post:

Shutterstock isn’t spendy if you’re looking at the higher resolution images. It’s actually cheaper. Shutterstock is $7-10 depending on what size credit package you buy and if you can find a coupon code. Dreamstime can go up to $20 for the same image, same size.

Shutterstock charges the same no matter what size you get. So if you’re careful, it’s actually cheaper by a bunch.

And it ispossible to use an image that isn’t listed as creative commons or public domain as long as you CONTACT the OWNER and get express written permission to use it. If they do not reply, that means NO.

So if you see something you like and you can track down the original source, give it a try. Make sure you specify that you’d like ROYALTY-FREE use of the image. Some might want to charge an arm and a leg, other may charge something you believe is reasonable. Others may just think it’s cool enough that you asked that they’ll just give you permission for free.


About Natalie R. Collins

Natalie has more than 30 years writing, editing, proofreading and design experience. She has written 20 books (and counting), has worked for the Sundance Film Festival, and as an investigative journalist, editor, and proofreader. She embraces her gypsy-heart and is following her new free-thinking journey through life. Follow her as she starts over and learns a bunch of life's lessons--some the hard way.
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One Response to Copyright Violation 101

  1. Pingback: Guest Post & Giveaway ~ The Ties That Bind by Natalie Collins

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