A Word About Copyright

Just a word about copyright.

It's very easy to copy things from the web, so a lot of people are doing it. I've found my artwork used, without my permission, on everything from "copyright free" websites to purchasable games, to plaques sold on e-bay.

When I contacted them, a fair number of the people who were using my work had no idea it was even mine. Someone grabbed it from my site, and shared it with a friend, who gave it to someone else, who put it on a disk with a lot of other things and gave that to his cousin, and so on.

Please, don't do this.

People, everything on the web was made by someone.

If you didn't make it, someone else did. Things don't just grow among the electrons. :D

Everything is copyrighted from the moment it's fixed in tangible form, even if it's not registered. Registration simply allows the person who made something to sue for more money, and none of us want that.

Copyright violation happens when you use something without permission. Only the copyright holder is allowed to reproduce the work, make derivative works, distribute copies of the work, or perform or display it publicly.

This is true, whether or not the person violating the copyright is making any money from that use. Money doesn't enter into the equation at all.

"Fair Use" isn't about how much of a work you use, or whether or not you get paid for it. Under the Fair Use clause, you can use parts of a work, including quotes, for certain purposes, including commentary, criticism, news reporting, and education. It's not clear cut; but if you're not using something in a way that is obviously one of the above, then you shouldn't be using it without permission at all.

I have encountered a persistent rumor that if you change a certain percentage of someone else's work it's considered a derivative work, and you can claim the copyright.

This is simply not true, no matter how much you change it. Only the copyright holder, or someone with permission from the copyright holder, is legally entitled to make derivative works. Taking someone else's work and changing it is, itself, a violation of copyright. (And can really, really annoy the original artist.)

So, if you see something that you want to use, what should you do?

Write to the person who made it, and ask for permission to use it. I have given permission to hundreds of people, and I rarely charge anything at all for use.

It never hurts to ask!

But what if you don't know who to ask?

You can often tell who created a work by looking at the place you got it. For instance, I created all the work you'll find on this website.

If that doesn't work, try opening a copy in a program that will look for Digimarc notices or metadata. Either of these might give you the copyright holder.

If you can't find out who the copyright holder is, don't assume that there isn't one. Assume that you can't find out who it is, and use something else.

Copyright violation is a serious crime that can cost you bushels of cash; so it's always better to err on the side of caution.

If you'd like to find out more about copyright in the United States, there is a lot of information at the U.S. Copyright Office.

I hope this helps.

Thanks for reading.