As soon as any piece of original content is created, whether in print or online, it is protected by copyright. This applies to both published and unpublished works. If you write a blog post and include your own photographs, you legally own that content. It is automatically copyrighted.
The fair use doctrine implements an exception to using copyrighted material without it being infringement. This exception applies if the purpose of your work is for commentary or criticism. For example, if you are reviewing a product and would like to include a photo of it, you should be able to get one from the manufacturer’s website without violating copyright.
To determine if your use of another author’s work is fair, consider these four factors:
- What is the purpose of your work? Is it for commercial nature or nonprofit educational purpose?
- What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
- How substantial is the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole?
- What will be the effect of the use upon the potential market? What is the value of the copyrighted work?
These factors can certainly help distinguish fair use, but remember there is a gray area. Ultimately, a judge or jury makes the call, so think twice and do your research before you copy and paste.
For information on copyright specifically relating to social media, check out our post about the legality of Pinterest: Is Pinterest Legal?