One of the problems that I encounter fairly regularly is the adoption of general rules for copyright compliance. The reason that adopting general rules about copyright is a problem is because there’s only one rule that you can always apply when it comes to copyright and that is
Can you use an image that you find on the internet in your blog post?
Can you take a photo in an art gallery?
Can you upload a copy of a book to a public access website?
Can you upload a copy of your favourite album onto your YouTube channel?
You name your copyright related question and the answer is always going to be – It depends…
and it depends on lots of things:
What country you’re operating in
Whether your use falls under an exception in your local copyright laws
What you want to copy
How much you want to copy
Whether the material you want to copy is in copyright
Whether the copyright owner grants you certain rights
and it could even depend on more than that…. sometimes it feels a bit like you’re Alice following a rabbit down a hole and finding yourself confronted with a new problem or challenge to consider down every path you take!
Copyright is about problem solving and like most problems, you have to examine all the elements of the problem, think of some potential answers, then work through the scenarios until you find that all your premises necessarily provide you with the answer. The answer is not always obvious.
I am in Australia and I have an Australian book that was published in 1915. The author died in 1930. Can I make a copy of the whole book and put it on the internet?
In Australia, copyright has expired if the author passed away before 1955 and the work was published or made public in their life time.
So you’re thinking yes that’s fine right? Well, maybe not, because the answer is still actually – it depends…
It depends on what is in the book.
In this instance, when you open the book and look inside, you find that there are paintings on some of the pages the book that are attributed to a particular artist and when you look up the details of the artist, you find that they passed away in 1967. Those paintings are still in copyright (until at least 2037).
So maybe now you’re thinking the answer is no? Surprise! The answer is still – it depends!
Under what circumstances are you making the whole book available? If you were to be critiquing or reviewing each illustration, potentially, you might be covered under the provisions of Fair Dealing for Criticism or Review….
Did you get permission? If you obtained permission from the copyright owner to upload the content to your website, then you are also covered for making the content available.
If you are neither operating under provisions of Fair Dealing or have permission to upload the illustrations, well then you could still upload the text of the book, just not the images.
I’m not trying to make copyright more complicated than it already is, all I’m trying to do is to remind you that there’s no silver bullet for copyright issues and you’ll get yourself into trouble if you paint all copyright issues with the same brush (unless that brush is one that says “it depends“) 😉
Copyright can be hard – I admit that (I used to have a sign over my and my colleague’s desks to remind us of that fact so that we didn’t feel stupid when we didn’t know the answer immediately). The good news is though, that you don’t have to work out copyright problems by yourself – even a lot of us with expertise talk our issues over with our networks to help make sure we’re getting copyright right. So don’t feel bad if you’re having trouble! Find someone with expertise in your local copyright laws and ask them to to help you work out the copyright riddle. If you’re at a school or university, contact your Copyright Office! If you’re not at an institution, try talking to some of your local librarians who might be able to point you in the right direction of who to talk to or do some research into who your local copyright authority or government legal service is and see what guidance that can provide.
Alice and the Caterpilar By Sir John Tenniel (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons