Copyright: What Every Blogger Should Know

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Back in June the Austin Food Blogger Alliance held a learning session on copyright and blogging. On the panel were Rachel Farris and Trey Ratcliff, who have both experienced theft of works, and copyright and trademark lawyer Anthony Campbell. I’ve been meaning to write a post about it for a while, but first I decided my notes were too slapdash, and then I decided to just go ahead and share what I had. The information is important for bloggers (and other content curators) to know.

My notes are presented in bullet format – not the prettiest, but the best way for me to translate my notes into practical use. Please note that this information is by no means comprehensive and reflects only what a few people on a panel told us. I hope there are no errors, but please contact a copyright lawyer if you have further questions.

* Bottom feeders who steal images and content are part of blogging. It’s not worth your time to go after those people. Go after the big companies instead.

* Copyright is generally for the life of the author plus 70 years.

* Registration with the government is not required for copyright. If you see it, assume it’s copyrighted. However, if you choose to register, it will help with statutory damages if you pursue a case.

* Make sure your blog has a privacy policy and comment policy, not just to protect you but also your visitors.

* Fair use applies to works used for commentary, criticism, reporting, and the like.

* Thumbnail photos fall under fair use.

* One way to CYA (cover your ass) is to tag your photos and add a copyright notice to the EXIF data. EXIF data can be added in Photoshop, Lightroom, and other editing softwares.

* Photos are harder to protect on blogs – you might not be able to declare them under the halo of blog registration.

* Use of person’s likeness is a state law (that is, it’s different state to state). It’s always best to ask permission before snapping someone’s photo and putting it on your blog. Be especially aware of using photos of children.

* Blogs can be registered at the copyright office as a serial like magazines. By registering your home page, the copyright extends to all your posts, and you don’t need a new copyright for each page. Currently in the U.S. it is $35 for a basic online claim.

* Registration can also be retroactive. For example, if I registered this blog today, I would extend the official copyright to 2006, when the blog began. It wouldn’t cover me for any stealing that happened before today, but if someone next week stole a post I wrote in 2009, I would be covered.

* Note that copyright falls to the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. If another person happens to write about their experience strawberry picking after you did, they aren’t stealing.

* If you write recipes for brands, find out if the material you’re submitting is listed under work-for-hire or personal. Some places retain copyright on the recipes you create for them.

* On that note, be sure to read the fine print when you submit content for a contest. Recipe and photo contests might have a clause stating they will be able to use your content for their own purposes.

Have you had any issues with copyright? How did you settle it?


  1. Very useful post – I think few people are aware of what copyright actually applies to. I didn’t know that thumbnails fall under fair use rights.
    Another thing to check, especially for photographers, is the Terms of Service for many social media/sharing sites like Pinterest, Facebook etc. They can be a little eye opening.

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