Copyright laws grant creators exclusive rights to print, publish, perform, and otherwise distribute their work. And what some bloggers may not realize is that copyright law applies even to them, and that copyright laws cover images as well as print. So what are some of the laws book bloggers should be concerned with?
Criticism and Fair Use
Fair use allows individuals limited use of copyrighted works in their own works without seeking permission from the copyright holder. While most people are familiar with the application of fair use to teaching and researching, fair use can also apply to criticism or commentary. For book bloggers, this means that book discussions and book reviews will most likely fall under fair use.
However, there are still guidelines to keep in mind. The U.S. states that fair use is determined by four features:
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Note that while bloggers may be able to quote copyrighted works in their discussions or reviews, they are usually not allowed to quote a work in its entirety, even under fair use. The U.S. Copyright Office clarifies:
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances.
Only a “portion” of a copyrighted work can be used for criticism or commentary. That is, to be on the safe side, bloggers should not quote entire works or even substantial parts of copyrighted works. Entire poems, if still under copyright, should not be posted on blogs. Half of an essay from a favorite author should probably not be posted on blogs. And large chunks of text that are not necessary for the discussion at hand should probably not be posted on blogs. While it is true that there is no specific word count that bloggers should be aware of while quoting, erring on the side of caution is best.
And, remember, citing a work does not allow bloggers to bypass copyright law. That is, if a blogger quotes an entire copyrighted poem, providing the title of the volume it came from along with the author’s name does not make the quotation fair use. By posting the poem in its entirety, the blogger in this case has still potentially harmed the poet because readers no longer have to buy the book to read this poem. Instead, they can simply visit the blogger’s site.
Copyright Laws and Images
Copyright law also protects the use of images and photographs. This means that bloggers cannot grab photographs from Google’s image search, from Instagram, from other blogs, or from websites without checking to make sure that the image is free and legal for others to use. Even if it is, the image may come with other restrictions such as how the image may be used and/or modified. If in doubt, bloggers should seek written permission to use the image. And, as with texts, attribution is not permission. That is, copying an image from Instagram and providing a link back to the creator does not grant a blogger permission to use the image.
Keep in mind that image theft is just as serious as pirating a copyrighted text. Oftentimes artists lose money or see their brand damaged when their work is stolen and posted across the Internet. Even if an image is copied from Instagram or another blog, the original creator may lose traffic and views now that they are no longer the only place where their work can be found.
Bloggers sometimes assume that fair use laws and attribution enable them to use copyrighted texts without permission. However, this not always the case. Bloggers should familiarize themselves with the details of copyright law and fair usage. And, when in doubt, always ask permission.