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Caution: Cutting and Pasting Could Get You Sued

Google may have emerged victorious in Viacom’s landmark $1 billion copyright case over infringing YouTube videos, but don’t misinterpret the ruling. YouTube was under a Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FACT: Cutting and pasting articles for use in your real estate marketing efforts don’t fall under that Safe Harbor—and it could get you sued. Recently, there had been an onslaught of lawsuits filed against individual bloggers and companies with websites that copy material from newspapers.

To protect yourself and your company from liability, never display, reproduce or distribute copyright protected works. This rule applies as equally to blogs, website articles, and social media postings, as it does to good, old-fashioned written and printed material.

In a nutshell, state and federal copyright laws protect original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. So, the copyright owner has the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, create derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and display the work publicly. The creator of the work owns the copyright whether or not the copyright is registered or whether a copyright notice is included in the work.

The proliferation of electronic media has made the transfer of information from one person to another easier and more efficient than ever. This does not mean that because we have the physical ability to copy and paste news articles, that we can do so legally.

Do not think that by giving the particular newspaper credit for copied materials that you are protected from being sued in a copyright infringement case. Any copying of work, whether it be from a news source or otherwise, is prohibited without express written permission from the creator of the work. Keep these rules in mind as you continue to build your business online!

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6 comments on “Caution: Cutting and Pasting Could Get You Sued
  1. kwmt says:

    The rules here are so confusing, I figure if an article has a “share on facebook” button or some such, then I am safe doing so. Thanks for the reminder.

    Keller Williams MT Realty

  2. Chico Jim says:

    How much can you “use” of an article before you link directly to the article’s homepage? The headline? The headline and first paragraph? What is “Safe Harbor” and what is “News”? How much of an article can you use before having your “commentary” on the article?

    Lastly, what if all my posts are with a “bit” of sarcasm for humor? Isn’t parody protected??

    Of course, I can’t afford to be wrong!

  3. AskMaxLee says:

    That’s why whatever I publish anything online, I use a software to check for plagiarism.

    – Max

  4. Julie Lane, VP of Legal and Compliance says:

    Thanks for your comments! I agree with @kwmt that using the “share this” feature is a great way to share information.

    @Chico Jim: The Digital Millenium Copyright Act has a “safe harbor” provision for online service providers against copyright liability–if they adhere to certain guidelines and promptly remove illegal content if they receive a notification claiming infringement by the copyright owner. But note that most individuals won’t qualify as online service providers. You may draw a copyright infringement complaint by using any portion of an article, however, you are generally safe by providing a link to the article and then starting your commentary.

    Regarding “parody” – it can be protected under the fair use doctrine which permits some copying under certain circumstances. “Fair use” is not clearly defined and is judged by a four factor test-see this link with good information: . If you have any questions about your specific circumstances though, it is best you consult with a local attorney who is familiar with copyright law.

    Hope this helps.


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