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The Top 5 Copyright Infringement Laws You NEED to Know

Oftentimes, copyright infringement laws seem misleadingly straightforward. In fact, many content creators define these laws as simply “not stealing other people’s content”. However, copyright infringement laws are much more complicated than this, and failing to understand them can get you into trouble 👎.

As a content creator and social media user, it is your responsibility to educate yourself on copyright infringement laws – right down to the nitty gritty details. Otherwise, you may be breaking the law without even knowing it! 

To help out with this daunting task, I’ve outlined the top five copyright infringement laws you need to know to keep yourself in the clear and out of legal trouble. 

Check them out below 👇:

Content does NOT have to be registered to retain copyrights

A common misconception about copyright infringement laws is that content is only protected after it has been officially registered with the United States Copyright Office.

Believe it or not, the moment a piece of art is created ✏️ – even if it’s just a napkin drawing! – it is protected under U.S. copyright law.

In fact, the Copyright Law of the United States states the following:

(a) Copyright protection subsists… in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

In other words, as soon as something is recorded, written, drawn, or created by any other means of expression, that piece of work is protected.

While registering a piece of art with the U.S. Copyright Office does provide an added protection and helps secure legal retribution in the case of infringement, it is NOT 🙅‍♂️ necessary for the protection of that art under United States law.

“Works made for hire” are exceptions to the “authorship” rule

The author, or creator, of a piece of art, retains all copyrights under U.S. Copyright Law except when that art is “work made for hire”.

United States Copyright Law defines works made for hire as art created by an employee of a company under the company’s direction or under an agreement 🤝 between the creator and the party commissioning the work.

For example, say you work for a small business as a graphic designer and you create a piece of art for their website. As an employee of this business, anything you create under their direction does not legally belong to you, but to the business entity.

It’s important to remember this fact, especially when you’re hired as a freelancer or contractor. Creating your best, most genius work under the direction of another party isn’t always the best idea when it comes to making a profit 💸. Just ask Stan Lee! 

The doctrine of fair use does not always protect you

While the doctrine of fair use can be a great way to use copyrighted material legally, it is not ❌ a foolproof method for protecting yourself from legal trouble.

In fact, creators should depend on fair use not as their right to use copyrighted material, but instead as legal protection should they wind up with infringement charges.

Unfortunately, the doctrine of fair use comes with its own limitations. For example, the doctrine lacks a definition of a “short” amount of content. While I recommend my clients use no more than one to three seconds of copyrighted material, others believe up to 30 seconds ⏱️ is permissible.

Furthermore, the concept of “transformation” is subjective and undefinable. What one person believes to be a transformation of art may not be so to the original artist – or a judge 👨‍⚖️ for that matter.

Therefore, content creators are much better off using royalty-free content or licensing websites to obtain the rights to the art they use in their social media posts. While fair use may protect you in court, you’re always better off protecting yourself from copyright flags or infringement charges with a more concrete method of licensing.

Reposting content to a different platform IS copyright infringement

We all love that “Share” button on Facebook. However, while sharing content on the same platform is totally allowed and within your rights as a social media user, removing content from one platform and posting on another is not.

Whenever a creator posts something to a social media platform that allows sharing, such as retweeting on Twitter or repinning 📌 on Pinterest, that creator accepts the Terms and Conditions of that platform. These Terms express the rights of the platform’s other users to share content to their pages.

However, unless otherwise stated in the Terms and Conditions, a creator posting to one site does NOT give up their copyrights on OTHER sites. Therefore, feel free to hit that retweet button all you want, but keep it on Twitter 🐦! 

Copyright infringement penalties include actual or statutory damages

If you are deemed guilty in a court of breaking copyright infringement laws, you will be responsible for paying either actual or statutory damages plus applicable attorney’s fees 💰.

So what does this mean, exactly? 

If the author of a stolen work can prove that they suffered a monetary loss from your infringement, you will be responsible for paying for those “actual damages”. Furthermore, if you earned any profits from your illegal use of the copyrighted material, you would be responsible for handing those profits over to the original author.

On the other hand, the author retains the right to sue for statutory damages instead of actual damages. These penalties can range from $750 to a whopping $150,000 🤑. 

This rule alone proves the importance of understanding copyright infringement laws and ensuring you always take preventative measures in protecting ⚔️ yourself from copyright charges. Oftentimes, it is in your best interest to consult with a social media attorney to determine how you can keep yourself safe and avoid legal issues in the future.