I’ve recently had problems with some of my content being republished without any request for permission, links back to the site or editing of the content. As far as I’m concerned that constitutes plagiarism as they are taking credit for the content, copyright infringement as they are republishing without a license to do so and just downright theft. So where is the line when it comes to online content and more specifically, online video?I started digging around on YouTube to see if they had some specific licensing that you agreed to upon uploading a video and I found it in the YouTube Terms of Service which you must agree to when signing up at the site:

10. Rights you licence

10.1 When you upload or post a User Submission to YouTube, you grant:

  1. to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license (with right to sub-license) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that User Submission in connection with the provision of the Services and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Website and YouTube’s business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels;
  2. to each user of the Website, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, license to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Website and under these Terms.

10.2 The above licenses granted by you in User Videos terminate when you remove or delete your User Videos from the Website. The above licenses granted by you in User Comments are perpetual and irrevocable, but are otherwise without prejudice to your ownerships rights, which are retained by you as set out in paragraph 8.2 above.

Well that settles it. In a nutshell you give permission to them and every user of the site to reproduce your video at will. I’m certain many other sites of similar nature (i.e. video sharing) require a similar license, so if someone happens to use your video and not notify you of it, that’s what you agreed to via YouTube.

Self-Hosting and the Law

Now let’s say you’re hosting a video (or any other content) on your own site. Even without a copyright mark or notice, it’s still your content. You see, most of the world adheres to the Berne Convention on Copyright. That means that any content you create and show off for public consumption, with or without a copyright notice, is still yours, unless you sign off some rights and licenses to someone else. It’s way old, 1886 old to be exact. Of course it was revised more recently, 1988 to be exact and was enacted in the United States on 1 March, 1989.

Essentially, to save you having to read some 100+ year-old text, all countries who signed agree to recognize the copyright of all creators of all other signed countries. OK, it will be easier to tell you who hasn’t signed at this point, even easier, here’s an image from Wikipedia (who gives everyone the right to reproduce their stuff by the way) of who has (blue) and hasn’t (gray) accepted the Berne Convention.

Essentially, if someone takes your content online and reproduces it without your permission in those countries, regardless of whether or not you’ve put up a copyright notice, they are at fault and you could pursue it as far as need be up to and including legal damages (theoretically, see Fair Use below).

I claim Fair Use!

Well it’s not! At least, it’s probably not. Here’s what the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, who fight for us little guys) has to say on that.

In a nutshell, Fair Use is determined by:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes — Courts are more likely to find fair use where the use is for noncommercial purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work — A particular use is more likely to be fair where the copied work is factual rather than creative.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole — A court will balance this factor toward a finding of fair use where the amount taken is small or insignificant in proportion to the overall work.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work — If the court finds the newly created work is not a substitute product for the copyrighted work, it will be more likely to weigh this factor in favor of fair use.

How does that apply online?

Simply put, it applies in full force. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply lift content for other sites without facing some sort of challenge. If you do, you might simply find yourself in front of a judge paying a big time attorney triple digits per hour to get your butt out of a sling. Even then, the court might simply slap your defense down. There are only two things that have been legally found Fair Use – backing up your own music for your own use and making a copy of some content you’ve purchased for backup purposes. Simply, other than that, I say you hang!

What’s your take on it Chris?

Since you’ve asked, I’ll give you my thoughts on the whole thing. Placing a video on YouTube, whether you ever read the ToS or not, should obviously make you aware that others can and will embed that video elsewhere. So don’t be shocked, or threaten them, when they do (as recently happened to Weblog Tools Collection and sort of spawned this article). I mean you could threaten them but if they don’t take it down and you take them to court, you should lose. I say should because it’s your own blasted fault for not reading the YouTube ToS where you gave YouTube and pretty much anyone who visits the site permission to copy your stuff. So suck it up.

If it’s on your site, take the time to put a Copyright logo or notice up. But even without it, you should still technically win any battle. For example, if I write an article about something and post it here or to R2 Relations’ site, it should technically be considered a creative work and therefore the Copyright is mine and mine alone, regardless of whether or not there is a notice (unless I assign the rights to someone like say ReelSEO). Therefore when I request someone take down a copy of it, I should win, with or without a court and lawyers to back me up.

The same goes for video, audio, images and any other content. If you make it and don’t give someone permission and only publish it on your personal or professional website, the Copyright should remain with the creator and all others be damned.

But you included a Share Button!

So what? Sharing it does not mean copying the whole thing in general does it? Share buttons generally allow for linking back to content on major social networking and media sites, it is not a license to steal the work of others and put it forth as yours. Nor does it say “steal this and just give them credit.” No, it says share this with someone you know. That means essentially ‘Hey pal, check this out” with a link to the interesting content, not copying the whole thing planting it on your website and then saying “I found this on the web” or nothing at all which is then theft and certain Copyright infringement.

In the end, why not just be kind and give credit where credit is due? If you need some content for your site or blog fine, link to it, summarize it and give credit to those who actually put the time, energy and sometimes money into making something. Just because it’s on Internet doesn’t mean there’s no Copyright and you can do whatever you want. There are ways of finding out who you are, contacting the services (webhost, blog software, etc) you’re using and force their hand in the matter. In the end just be smart and if you feel you absolutely must have some piece of content, ask for it, you might be pleasantly surprised and get rights to republish.

Oh and as a content creator, be aware of your rights and, in some cases, lack of said rights.