Without a doubt, social media has introduced a whole new world of opportunity for citizen journalists, bloggers and others looking to share their stories and ideas in the public arena. Unfortunately, it’s also introduced a host of ways to violate intellectual property laws. From Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram to blogs, Facebook and Google+, social media makes it easy to unknowingly infringe on others’ copyrights.
If you want to participate in social media, here are six things you need to know.
1) Fair Use
If you participate in social media, it’s good to understand “fair use,” a tenet of copyright law. Essentially, the fair use rule allows you to use other people’s material (e.g., photos, art, music, videos, ideas, articles, etc.) if you use only portions of it – as opposed to the entire copyrighted work – for criticism, comment, teaching, research or news purposes. The idea is that using it for those purposes means you’re using it fairly rather than just getting ahead by co-opting someone else’s hard work.
2) Transformative Use
It’s also best to use it in a “transformative” rather than derivative way, meaning that you somehow add to the original content. With a recipe, for example, you can add to the ingredients or adjust the cooking process. With a work of art, you may add praise, criticism or comment on the message it conveys.
If you are using someone else’s original material, give them credit. Give attribution to the original author of a quote or passage, the composer and/or singer of a song, or the name of a photographer or visual artist. If the material exists online, include a link to that original content. Copyright laws are intended to protect creators’ markets. If your use of their material affects their market, you could be infringing on their copyright.
4) About Pinterest
With more than 4 million unique users every day, Pinterest has sparked many conversations about copyright law. If you use Pinterest, you need to be sure you follow the above rules because when you signed up, you agreed that all risk arising out of your use of the Pinterest site is your responsibility (even legal fees that Pinterest may encounter because of your actions). Some experts have likened Pinterest to Napster, suggesting you may face some risk using the site, even if you do attribute, though the risk to an individual is likely small. Repinning, however, doesn’t fall under copyright infringement.
5) Safest Bet
If you want to use other people’s material for any use – fair, transformative or otherwise – your safest bet is to get permission from the copyright owner. It’s not always easy, but if the material is for something truly important, it’s the wisest step to take.