Online Intellectual Property Content: What Can I Use and How Can I Use It?

Eggs Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash
Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

by Zak Niazi and Lauren Keyson

The NY Technology Council held a panel discussion on the legality of reposting online works without the original author’s permission. It seems many people are doing trying to beef up their own content this way. There are many problems with using other previously posted online content to your website, not the least of which is the Search Engine Optimization issue it could create. That alone is reason enough not to use other people’s content, but there are also legal dos and don’ts of sharing copyrighted online videos and images you likely don’t know about.

The Legality of Using Other’s Online Content

Most websites incorporate content that others have created – sometimes with permission, sometimes without it. Website owners and operators post photographs, screengrabs, or GIFs from other sources, incorporate content from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, embed videos from video-sharing sites, and re-appropriate content in many other ways. Users also post their own text, images, videos, and other material on the sites – which may also use third-party content.

Moderator Jim Rosenfeld, Partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, guided the conversation about the legality of using third-party content, based on copyright, trademark, privacy/publicity, libel, and other areas of law that websites should know about. He said that it’s not necessarily legal for people to repost another author’s work. “People only pursue a small percentage of the copyright infringement that’s out there. But if someone copies your article without your permission, it’s probably not legal. It’d probably be pretty hard for them to come up with a defense to taking your article and copying it onto their website.”

About other material, like online photos, it’s possible but only if it’s licensed. “You can if you license it and if you don’t license it you’d have to do a legal analysis to determine whether you would have some legal defense to copyright infringement. Whether that’s because the materials are in the public domain or because it’s fair use or some other reason so that you’re using is protected. Even just reposting a paragraph can still be a copyright infringement. It depends on the circumstances.”

So it turns out that even if the appropriator gives credit for the reposted article, it’s not really enough for many copyright situations. “Using a short excerpt and linking back to the appropriate content is very different both legally and how people perceive it,” said Jeff Grossman, assistant general counsel for AOL Inc. He advises many of AOL’s properties including Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and MapQuest, to name a few. “It depends on the situation you’re talking about, but there are some situations in which use of others’ content is ok.

“But generally just the credit is not enough. As a rule. It does depend on the situation, who it is, and how they feel about you using their work. Sometimes you can tell depending on their site and other times you won’t know unless you ask.”

To sum up the overall take-away from this event, just figure that everything anyone reposts is illegal unless they get permission.

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