You are surfing the web and see an image you consider quite funny or an amazingly beautiful sunset and want to share it in your social media. You click and add the image to your Facebook account feeling quite proud of yourself having shared the imagery with all your friends and probably their friends as well. Did you think that perhaps that image sharing could equal copyright infringement? No way. Everyone does it and you may have even seen the very same image on other social media accounts or in blogs. None of that negates copyright law.
Try using the defense “Everyone does it” in court and see what happens. Just as your mother should have warned you ‘just because everyone does it does not mean you have to’. The blog author may have requested permission and properly credited the image creator. The social media users are not good role models when you are considering copyright laws. Social medias have lulled us into the misguided notion that anything goes online. If it is online it is up for grabs. You could not be more wrong. Just because content appears on the internet or shows up in your Google search does not make it free to use.
Once a work is created, be it an image, graphic, photograph, article or blog, it is automatically considered copy written by the creator. That means that the creator owns that piece of work. If you copy the work and use it without permission you are stealing the work from the creator and you can be sued for such actions. Not only big corporations are seeking litigation against copyright infringers. Imagine that you worked hard to create a beautiful cake for your birthday or you drove to a cake shop and purchased one and your neighbor runs into your home and takes it. Such an action is theft and is against our laws. You would feel bad having your beautiful cake stolen and would most likely want justice. The neighbor broke the law and you can sue them for the infraction that has injured you. This is the way copyright law works as well. If you did not create it or purchase the right to use the work then it is not yours to use. Violating this law will leave you wide open to a lawsuit. In this time of everyone suing everyone for everything under the sun do you really want to open yourself up to being sued for illegally using content online that is not yours?
There is one exception here called the public domain. If a work is placed within the public domain by the original creator or a person that has purchased all rights to the work the public is allowed to use that work. You do not need to credit the creator or offer a link to the content and you can use it for just about any legal activity you please. If the work was not placed within the public domain by the creator or one holding the legal rights to do so you may still be subject to litigation and bear the burden of proving that you could not possibly have known of the illegal placement of the work within the public domain. The public domain designation is not designed to absolve you of responsibility to act in a knowledgeable manner. If you have seen the work elsewhere under another license it is safe to assume that the identical work within the public domain is not legally placed there.
Many internet users feel that by placing their derivative work of an illegally obtained copy written work into the public domain and/or posting a link to the original creator’s work they are absolved of all responsibility for illegally using the original copy written work. You may even think you are doing the creator a favor by creating more exposure for their work. It simply does not work that way. You are doing no one any favors, least of all yourself. You can still be sued for copyright infringement. The work was not yours to use and you had no permission to use it in any manner. Well, if I am not making a profit from the use of the work then it is okay to use it. No. Just because you are not making a profit from the use of an illegally obtained work does not mean you do not need to have the creator’s permission to use the work. If it is not yours and you do not legally own the work then you cannot legally use it without permission in any manner. You must have the copyright holder’s permission to use the work. Well, if I use the work and then put it in the public domain then it is alright. No again. First off you had no permission to use the work. Secondly you have no right to submit the work into the public domain as you did not create it and do not own the copyrights. This would be compounding your error and we all know that two wrongs do not make a right.
When in doubt you should always make an attempt to contact the creator and ask for permission before using anything that is not yours. If you cannot contact the creator then you should not use the work. Yes, I know. You had your heart set on that piece and are so disappointed but are you a thief? I hate to be the one to tell you but if you use internet content that is not yours without permission you are a thief. What type of example are you setting for your children? Do you not teach them that stealing is wrong? How would you feel if your things were stolen? Would you not want to call the police and file a report? What if you could never get your things back? What if these stolen items were damaged how would you feel then? You should always consider the other person and their feelings. Anything does not go on the internet.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that you hold the key of anonymity online. Oh sure you use a screen name and you may even use an email under a false identity but you can be tracked down quite easily through your IP address and your internet service provider (ISP) will voluntarily assist when you have participated in copyright infringement violations. There is a right way and a wrong way to use online content. Hopefully now you know the right way is to obtain permission. Don’t be afraid to ask to use something, the worst that can happen is you will not be allowed to use it. There is no harm in asking and from experience I can say your odds are much better than 50/50 as most creators welcome the opportunity to share, they just want to be shown a bit of respect and asked for permission.