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Copyright or copywrong?

I found a beautiful photo of a vineyard scene on someone’s personal blog. I think it would look great on my own website. Can I copy and paste it if the original site doesn’t say something like “may not be reproduced”?

Copyright protects tangible “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other works. Copyright law grants certain exclusive rights, which include creating derivative works, reproducing the work and performing or displaying the work.

Copyright protection begins automatically upon creation and is owned by the author of the work, except in the case of a “work for hire.” There is no requirement that you “register” your work with any entity to obtain a copyright, although registration with the U.S. Copyright Office provides certain advantages.

Simply writing a blog creates a copyright in that work. There is no need for the author to include “all rights reserved,” a copyright notice or any other restrictive language to protect the work; it’s automatic.

While a copyright notice is no longer required, owners should always inform people that a work is protected. Notice also identifies the copyright owner and makes an “innocent infringer” defense less likely. Notice typically includes the ©-symbol or the word “copyright,” the year the work was published and the owner of the copyright. For example, this column could have the following: “Copyright 2013 Mary Luros.”

It is illegal to infringe upon a copyright, with some limitations. A common exception is called “fair use,” where the law allows for a work to be reproduced, such as for news reporting, teaching or research. Another exception would be if you had a license, or permission, to use the copyrighted work.

You are probably infringing if you pasted content from someone’s blog onto your own blog and tried to pass it off as your own. However, merely linking to another blog is legal; that’s the essence of the Internet. It’s also fine to include selections from someone’s blog into your own, if you are quoting the work with attribution and commenting or criticizing (under the fair use doctrine).

When in doubt, ask for the author’s permission, and if an author requests that you remove infringing content, you should do so immediately.

Copyright protection does not last forever, and the length of protection depends on when the work was created. For works created during or after 1978, the protection lasts through the creator’s life, plus an additional 70 years after his or her death.

If you infringe on someone’s copyright, that person may obtain an injunction to stop the infringement, as well as damages, attorneys fees and court costs. Criminal infringement may lead to jail time.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros LLP in Napa, and can be reached at The information provided here is not legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information.

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