Copyright for Pagans: What creators should know

This is the last part of my series on copyright for Pagans (at least for the moment.) This piece focuses on what you should know as a creator of copyrighted material (which you almost certainly are.)

Copyright for Pagans: What creators should know

You create copyrighted material all the time

… but that doesn’t mean you have to treat all the material the same.

You create copyrighted material every time you send an email (or write a text or a tweet or a Facebook update). You create copyrighted material if you post videos of yourself (or your kids) on YouTube. And if you’re a writer, or artist, or musician (creating original works), you’re creating copyrighted material there, too.

It’s good to sit down periodically and think about what you’re creating, and how you want to handle that. Every 6 or 12 months is a good range, or if something major changes in your life.

Questions to ask yourself:

1) Where am I creating materials?

Do I have a new blog or project or place I hang out and interact? It’s good to do a quick inventory of where you’re currently creating content – it makes it a lot easier to double check policies, think about long-term considerations, and make plans.

For example, you might decide you want to keep a copy of your own content. A regular review can help point out the sites that make it harder to do that. Maybe the kinds of content you’re creating have changed, and you want to keep copies now, but didn’t care as much last year.

2) Do I need to review policies on any sites?

Basically any online site that allows you to talk to other people probably has a clause in their terms of service that talks about allowing them to publish what you share for purposes of use on the site. If they didn’t include this permission, they couldn’t share your stuff with other people. That’s normal and reasonable. But watch out for sites that change their policies, or that try to restrict how you can use your content on other sites.

3) Do I want to give blanket permission in some cases?

Some people do Creative Commons licenses (that give blanket permission to share materials in certain circumstances, like not-for-profit uses, or with attribution) for all their content. Some people do it only for some. Other sites, like Unsplash, collect materials that can be shared and used freely.

4) Do my own spaces have clear policies and contact info?

Do spaces I control (like a personal site, business site, blog, etc.) have copyright statements and information? Is there a way for people to reach me if they have questions about my content?

You don’t need a copyright statement for things to be under copyright, but it’s definitely helpful in reminding people what your policies and preferences are. Because a lot of what I write depends on other material on my blogs or sites, I don’t do Creative Commons, but am generally glad to give permission on request.

5) Where am I getting materials that I use?

Are they coming from appropriate sources that have given permission?

Sharing on social media gets really complicated – but we can decide for ourselves what we’re okay sharing and using. I use photos from Unsplash (which can be modified or shared, and don’t require credit) for my blog, but give credit when feasible. I try to share materials from a creator’s own site or social media accounts whenever possible. I look for credits on art and other creative works, and make sure to share those.

You may make different choices, for a variety of reasons, but it’s good to review what you’re doing, how you feel about that, and whether you want to change anything.

6) Do I have a will that mentions intellectual property?

You create intellectual property, so it’s good to mention that in your will. (I need to do one for my current state: it’s in my to-do list for this month). If you have content online or offline, think about designating someone who can make decisions about that after you die, or whether you want to make a decision about releasing it to the public domain. (Or some of both!)

I have multiple websites, plus a lot of comments on a couple of forums, some of them lengthy works of information in their own right. Designating someone who can make decisions about it is a smart move.

Don’t believe me? Here’s Neil Gaiman explaining why this is so important (and not just for the brilliant writers out there. If you’ve ever created anything that’s helped someone else, moved them, meant something to them, then this is a way to make sure that can continue to happen.)

Legalities

Should you register your copyright?

That depends on a lot of factors. Registration can be complex, especially for things like blogs or collections of less formal work, but may be more worthwhile for books.

You don’t need to register to hold copyright – but registration does give you additional options if there are violations of your copyright about what you can sue for.

All of that said, suing for copyright is, in many cases, expensive and frustrating. Benebell Wen, a lawyer who does intellectual property (and who is also an author of works on Tarot and astrology) has a great overview of why copyright infringement is hard to fight. Because issues of jurisdiction, lack of understanding of copyright by many lawyers and judges, and other practical issues, bringing a suit often only makes sense in really significant (precedent setting cases) or other outliers.

Does someone else own your copyright?

If you have signed a contract with a publisher, there’s a decent chance you’ve signed over at least some of the rights you originally held as the creator. This is why it’s really important to have an agent or lawyer familiar with publishing contracts check your contract before you sign it. Publishers (and music producers, and people who make art available through prints, etc.) need permission or to hold the copyright to do some parts of that (making copies, distributing them, etc.) The details can vary a lot between different kinds of works – some things that are completely standard in music contracts would be completely wrong in book publishing, for example.

Contracts vary a lot about exactly which rights, what happens if an item goes out of print, under what circumstances (if any) the creator can get the rights back, and so on. Look for busy, well-run forums for creators of your particular medium for a place to start with advice or what to look for. I’ll look at pulling together some resources, too.

What happens if there’s an infringement?

Think about what you’d like the outcome to be.

Sometimes emailing and asking for a credit link may make more sense than legal options.

(Some people think you have to take action on any copyright infringement or you lose your rights. That’s a myth when it comes to copyright. (It is more complicated for trademark infringement.) You can decide to use a legal process with some infringements, and let others go.)

There are some legal processes that can help.

If your material is posted online, and you want it removed (and the servers are hosted in the US), the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has a specific set of steps for you to follow.

For large sites, there’s usually a form or other structured way you can make a report. For personal sites, you may have to figure out the hosting service and contact them. Benebell Wen includes a link to templates you can use when writing these emails or letters in the post I linked above.

Decide how much time and energy this is worth to you.

Some people find copyright infringement of their work to be a thing where if they know about it, they need to try and make it go away. Other people find that they spend too much time focusing on it, and it makes them miserable.

Figuring out which is the case for you is usually helpful in making long-term plans. If you need to know if things are misused, you might spend more time setting up automatic searches or using tools that help you find infringements and a system for dealing with them (i.e. having a template on your computer ready to go, reading about issues with copyright regularly, maybe a little consultation with a skilled lawyer who deals with intellectual property.)

If knowing makes you miserable, you might prefer to post more material in ways that are harder to copy or have other people use, set up searches in different ways, and make some specific choices about when and how you look for your own material.

A lot of people are somewhere in the middle: knowing that you’ve decided to make a DMCA report (or equivalent) in most cases, but will let things go if it’s more complex than that is a choice a lot of people make. Or that you care more about images than text, or text than images, or whatever’s true for you.

Using other people’s material

If you blog, share items on social media, or do a number of other common things, you may be using other people’s copyrighted material. Here are some general best practices:

Was this piece designed for sharing?

Retweeting a comment on Twitter, yes. Reblogging something that keeps the chain of who posted it and links back to the original? Generally okay on sites where that happens (think Tumblr). Copying and pasting someone else’s writing into your blog wholesale? Probably not.

Is this the original?

Link back to where you found the original and include whatever information about the original there is. If you can’t figure out the original source, seriously reconsider whether to pass it along and how. Links and information about where you found something and why you think it should be part of your work (or you’re sharing it) are great.

Have you checked out permissions?

Some creators are glad to share their material widely (Unsplash, as I mentioned above, is a way to do that. So are Creative Commons licenses) If that doesn’t apply to the thing you’re sharing, consider whether linking to it or referencing it would work just as well.

Is this an entire work?

Don’t repost entire works unless you’re sure it’s okay. That means don’t share entire copies of books, or entire artworks (or things like Tarot deck images, etc.) If it is okay with that artist or creator, a practice of linking to their own site and permissions with a “Shared with permission from…” is a great thing to do.

Is there a way to contact you?

If you’re regularly posting other people’s content, make sure there’s a way for someone to get in touch if something slips through (contact form, comments on your site, whatever works for you.)

A few last words on this series:

I expect I’ll be coming back to copyright sometime in here – if you weren’t clear about it already, it’s a topic I enjoy digging into. Have a question? Please ask (in comments or on my contact form.) I remain a librarian, not a lawyer, but I’d be delighted to see if I can at least point you in the direction of useful resources.

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