Anything which is copyrighted is usually illustrated by the symbol of a c within a circle, but it isn’t always as simple as that. Any published content such as books, films, music and photographs – both online and offline – are protected by copyright, so it’s very easy to fall foul of copyright law if you aren’t careful.
Copyright law protects all forms of intellectual property. If a piece of work has been presented in any form which can be seen, watched, read or heard then it becomes protected by copyright law – the c symbol isn’t actually required by law. It is not necessary to register the copyright of any work unless you wish to bring legal proceedings against someone for infringement of your work. That being said the rights to the work belong to the creator as soon as their work is published using whichever medium they choose. It is always a good idea to be able to prove any work is your own by signing it or being in position of an original manuscript or computer files just in case.
Copyright infringement is the act of using all or part of someone else’s intellectual property without their consent. It doesn’t need to be for financial gain either. If you have permission to use someone else’s material it is a good idea to have a contract signed by both parties detailing what material you are using and for what purpose. As long as the agreement is adhered to then there will be no problem. For instance in music an artist might record a cover of another artist’s song or sample part of an original song for use in another. For this they would need permission of the original songwriter and/or recording artist. Failure to get permission in this case would be an infringement of copyright.
If you don’t intend to record a song there are plenty of other ways you could be infringing copyright. These include but are not limited to streaming or downloading music or film without paying for it; using someone else’s photographs on a blog post; copying music CDs or film DVDs; recording a film on your mobile phone in a cinema; copying software code to use on a website; copying content from a blog or online news outlet; or uploading someone else’s music to YouTube. In short any time you use material which someone else has created without first seeking their permission, it is a copyright infringement.
Avoiding copyright infringement
The short solution to this is to simply not do any of the things outlined in the section above. If it’ not yours you generally shouldn’t use it, either with or without the circled c symbol.
But as with everything it’s not always black and white.
There are often exceptions to the rules. For example there are some people who are happy with you to share their work as long as they are simply given credit for creating it. There are websites full of photographs that are free to use in blog posts and the like and you may find that there are musical artists who will happily let you use their song for a variety of purposes.
The position often changes when it comes to commercial use though. It always pays to read any licensing agreements or terms and conditions before using anyone else’s content just to be on the safe side.
Fair use is another potential exemption. This can apply when using material for educational purposes. As long as the use of material isn’t being done commercially then you could well be exempt.
But beware any hearsay regarding copyright. You might have heard you can use a five second snippet of a song without recriminations. This simply isn’t true. You might also have heard that large companies won’t take legal action over slight infractions of the copyright law. This most definitely isn’t true.
You should always use a credible source for your information and copyright law is no different. Nobody wants to end up in the courtroom or with a hefty fine just because of ignorance of the law and you should make sure you are educated surrounding this. If necessary consult with a legal expert.