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The 7 Deadly Myths of Internet Copyright
An Interesting Article by: Attorney David L. Amkraut

The following is a summary of important information regarding the use and misuse of photos on the Internet. It is not specific legal advice. Copyright is a specialized field of law, and there are sometimes exceptions to the rules.
If you have a specific copyright concern, you should consult a lawyer with expertise in copyright issues concerning the use and misuse of photos on the Internet.

An excellent rule of the thumb: If you do not have specific permission (preferably written!) from the owner of a photo, you cannot legally display it on a Web site, post it to the Usenet, copy it, send it around by e-mail or other means, make photos derived from it, sell it, or otherwise exploit it.

MYTH #1.
"I do not need to register my photos with the copyright office, because I 'automatically' have copyright at the instant I snap the shutter."

This is a serious misunderstanding of the law.
Yes, you do own copyright without registration. BUT if you want to protect your photos from theft, you should register them with the Copyright Office, before you publish or distribute them. If you register your photos, you gain powerful remedies against infringers.

These can include: Civil penalties ("damages"). The pirate is on the hook for up to $150,000 for each misused photo.

Attorney's fees: the infringer has to pay your attorney's hourly fees and all costs such as copies, postage, filing fees, etc.
Restraining orders, Preliminary and Permanent Injunctions against the infringer, and even seizure of the pirate's computer equipment in some cases.

An important practical point is that if the photos are registered, you might find an attorney to take the case on "contingency," which means he takes the risk of gambling on a win, rather than you paying him by the hour.

Faced with a lawsuit over registered images - and an injunction which would likely mean being put out of business forever - many pirates will quickly settle up and pay.

By contrast, if you did not register your photos, it is almost impossible, as a practical matter, to nail an infringer. To get any damages at all, you have to prove how much the pirate made off your particular photos, or exactly how much money the theft cost you.

Either is almost impossible to prove. And you do not recover attorney's fees, so the cost of the lawsuit would far outweigh your possible recovery.
So, if you have registered your work, you are in good shape to "convince" an infringer to stop, or to successfully sue him. If you have not registered, you probably cannot do anything about pirates.




MYTH #2.
"I got the photo off the Usenet (newsgroups)
so it is in the 'Public Domain."

The above shows a misunderstanding of the term "Public Domain." The term has the specific legal meaning that no one controls the photo; anyone can use it as he wishes. There are two ways for a photo to fall into in the public domain:

The owner clearly gives up his rights, such as by signing a document saying, "I now give up my copyright and irrevocably place this work in the public domain."

OR 75 Years have passed since the owner died.

When an owner posts a photo to Usenet, he does not lose his rights, any more than publishing the photo in a magazine or on his own Web site would. When an owner posts to Usenet, the only license he gives is for replication and transmission within the Usenet system.

There have been many copyright cases involving Web sites which got their content from the Usenet - and courts have awarded fines in the millions of dollars against the pirates.

In addition, photos are often posted to Usenet against the owner's wishes, [such as] the many infringing copies of work owned by Playboy, Penthouse, and top photographers. Such posts are themselves violations of copyright.

Obviously if the original post to Usenet was illegal - as many are - subsequent copying and misuse is equally illegal.

In short, taking photos from Usenet and using them elsewhere such as on a Web site is copyright infringement, and you risk the severe penalties of piracy.

Fair use" is a legal "defense" to copyright. It was created to allow use of copyright material for socially valuable purposes such as....

MYTH #3. "My [Web site use, posting, whatever] is 'Fair Use' so I haven't violated copyright."
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