Finding Content for Your Website

You've finally got your company's website up and running. But a lack of talent or interest at the company often means you have trouble finding content to keep readers interested and coming back.

Copyright symbol

What if you find a great article on another website about how small businesses in your industry will look five years down the road? Can you use it? What about images on the Internet? Can you copy and paste them in your site?

Probably not. The rule of thumb here that can help keep you out of court is to assume all content on the Web is protected by copyright law — even if there is no © symbol. That means if you copy or "borrow" it, you're likely to be violating the law.

What's Needed for Copyright Protection to Kick In?

  1. The work must be original, although it doesn't have to be the only one of its kind. For example, there are probably several articles speculating on the future of your industry.
  2. The work must be in tangible form, not just an idea. Some examples are articles, essays, instructional material, directories, charts, photos, cartoons and drawings.
  3. The work must be in a protected "category", which runs the gamut from literary works to motion pictures. Assuming the work falls into a protected category, what aspects are protected? The right to reproduce (copy, transcribe or imitate the work); the right to distribute the material publicly by selling, renting, leasing or lending it; the right to modify the work, and the right to display the work to the public.

If you're caught infringing, it can be costly. Several remedies are available to the accuser. You can be ordered to stop using the material, to destroy infringing copies, and to pay damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 set out in the U.S. Copyright Act.

First, consider how you're going to use the material. Frequently, limited permission is given right at the website (or, in the case of written material, at the end of the article and at the beginning of books). Here's a typical example:

"The contents, graphics, design and other matters related to this site are protected under applicable copyrights, trademarks and other proprietary rights. You have a limited license to use the site solely for internal, personal or non-commercial purposes and to print out information from the site solely for internal, personal or non-commercial purposes provided you maintain all copyright and other policies contained therein."

As you can see, borrowing content for commercial purposes is usually forbidden. And it would be hard to argue that a website set up to sell products or services isn't commercial.

Getting Permission

Keep in mind that only the copyright owner can grant permission to use his or her work. While it's sometimes obvious who the owner is, other times you have to do a little detective work. In general, the creator of a work owns the copyright.

To find out if a work is registered, you can check the Copyright Office's online database by clicking here.

Bottom line: Don't use any material from another site or author without understanding the copyright implications.

Fair Use

Not all copying of protected material is an infringement. The "fair use" exception allows you to use a limited portion of a work without seeking the creator's permission.

But two elements are crucial:

  1. ‍How much of the work is quoted or credited, and
  2. ‍Whether or not the use harms the commercial value.One example of fair use is a book review that quotes short passages of a best seller. While there's no "word limit" on fair use, you can generally only copy a small portion of the work.

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