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How To Get Permission To Publish Your Website Content

Website content often leads to copyright infringement lawsuits. People forget to get permission and follow copyright laws when they do not use their own original works. As a small-business owner, you must protect yourself and your website content. Get permission from the author or copyright owner of anything you publish that is not your original material.

Follow These 11 Steps First

When publishing website content, it's essential to navigate the landscape of copyrighted material. Adhere to copyright laws to avoid legal complications. It is vital to follow this step-by-step guide to safeguard your intellectual property and ensure compliance.

1. Identify Copyrighted Content

Recognize and differentiate copyrighted works. These may include:

  • Text
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Other creative works from a public domain or non-copyrighted material

2. Ask for Permission From Copyright Owners

Contact the copyright holder to request permission before you use copyrighted material. Explain the intended use of the content on your website, such as social media, search engine optimization (SEO), or digital marketing purposes. Look for any contact information on the contact page, such as:

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Contact form

3. Get a License

If the copyright owner grants you copyright permission, request a written license agreement that outlines the terms of the conditions of use. Some copyright holders may allow you to use their content under specific terms, such as attributing the source or paying a licensing fee.

4. Use Open-Source Platforms

Consider using website builders. WordPress or content management systems offer free templates and themes for website design.

5. Check Hosting Provider's Policies

Review your hosting provider's terms and conditions about content usage. Some providers may have restrictions on certain types of content.

6. Understand Creative Commons

Get familiar with Creative Commons licenses that allow different degrees of uses and modifications under specific conditions such as attribution and noncommercial use.

7. Use the Copyright Clearance Center

Use resources such as the Copyright Clearance Center to help get permission for copyrighted content and speed up the approval process.

8. Follow Copyright Notices

Respect copyright notices and attribution requirements. Give proper credit to the original sources.

9. Follow the Owner's Copyrighted Work Formats

Adhere to the copyright owner's specifications and requirements regarding these potential issues:

  • Reprints
  • Formats
  • Portrayal of their work

10. Do Not Assume Fair Use

Define your intended use of the copyrighted material. Understand fair use exemptions under U.S. copyright law. Fair use permits limited use of protected material without permission from the owner. These limited uses include:

  • Commentary
  • Criticism
  • News reporting
  • Research
  • Education

The problem with relying on the fair use doctrine is that it is subjective.

11. Avoid Plagiarism

Ensure your use of copyrighted material is appropriate. Make sure the use of copyrighted material does not constitute plagiarism. Plagiarism can lead to legal consequences like copyright infringement. Even if you believe that the content on your website is all legal, if someone complains that you are using material without permission, remove it immediately. Courts will look kindly on your attempt to reduce or "contain" the damage.

Public Domain and Copyright Infringement Issues

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, whether it is information, software, pictures, art, video, or music, you should always presume it is protected material unless you know it is not. Items in the public domain have particular rules with which you should be familiar.

Second, copyright laws give the owner of the copyright exclusive rights to the material. Using or reproducing someone's copyrighted content without the copyright owner's permission is copyright infringement. If it is copyrighted material, you must still get permission from the copyright owner. Otherwise, you expose yourself to the risk of copyright infringement lawsuits. This can lead to a court ordering you to stop using the content and hefty monetary damages.

Trademark Issues

Trademark law prohibits using certain words or symbols that distinguish products or services from others if someone else has a right to them. You must get permission to use these trademarks, just like with copyrighted content. This is applicable when you sell products or services on your website. You are liable for trademark infringement if you fail to get permission before using trademarks on your website. Lawsuits are even more likely if your website content aims to make money or advertise.

Familiarize Yourself with Click-Wrap Agreements

Many websites contain clip art, such as animations and pictures, for reuse. These items are often called "royalty-free," "copyright-free," "shareware," or "freeware." Do not let those terms fool you. You are only granted permission to use this clip art according to the terms set out in the click-wrap agreement. This agreement is sometimes labeled "click to accept" or "read these terms." People often click "accept" without reading the terms of this agreement. Yet you should read the click-wrap agreement to ensure that you are not using the clip art in any way that violates the agreement.

Know Your Website Stats to Calculate Licensing Fees

Permission to use outside materials when publishing your website content is not free. The copyright owners ask for licensing fees ranging from $50 to thousands of dollars. These fees depend on several things:

  • Number of hits on your page
  • Number of visits to your page
  • Where the protected material location is on your website (homepage versus archived pages)
  • Whether your website is commercial or informational

You should know your website's statistics before asking permission to use materials because those numbers will be used to calculate your licensing fees.

Keep Your Permission Requests Narrow

Only ask permission for the specific use you intend and nothing more. For example, if all you need are song lyrics in English, do not ask for worldwide rights in all languages. You should also see if you can get more than one of the materials you need from one source, as this can save you money. Some copyright owners even offer you a lower fee if you pay upfront rather than waiting one to three months.

Put Disclaimers on Your Website

Disclaimers are statements that reject any affiliation with another website, company, association, or retailer. Disclaimers are not complete protection from infringement, but disclaimers tend to limit damages in court cases. It is wise to include a disclaimer in the content of your website. Your disclaimer does not have to be long or elaborate but must deny any affiliation with the company or website to which you are referring.

Familiarize Yourself With Clearinghouses and Collectives

Clearinghouses and collectives are organizations that license works and grant permission to their members. They are good sources for permission information. It is wise to familiarize yourself with these organizations' websites so that you can turn to them when obtaining permission to use protected material.

Not only are these sources that can grant you permission for use, but you can also find contact information for songwriters, artists, authors, and photographers. Organizations such as National Music Publishers' Association, Getty ImagesASCAP, and the Cartoon Bank can assist you.

Get Legal Advice Before You Publish

The internet is a fast-paced environment and ever-changing. Speak to a skilled intellectual property attorney (IP attorney) before posting questionable materials on your website. An IP attorney focusing on copyrights will be familiar with the U.S. Copyright Office rules and regulations on copyright protection and help streamline this process.

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Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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