Copyright – using other people’s content

Easy directions on how to steer clear of breaking copyright and getting your company into hot water. Lead by example by following these points.

In many ways, people control the content they publish on the web and in books. While it can be useful to quote other people’s work and point our colleagues to it, we cannot republish other people’s content online or within our documents without permission. Such permission may be given in the copyright statement, so you need to read the statement to discover if the owner allows you to use their work.

We cannot use content / work based on the excuse that it was ‘online and therefore public’ – that bizarre justification isn’t true.

If you cannot find a copyright statement then you must assume that ‘all rights are reserved’ and that you are not allowed to copy or re-publish the work. In the UK, all work is automatically covered by copyright, with or without a statement. You are welcome to request permission to use work directly from the owner.

The Daily Mail fiasco

You would think that a newspaper would understand copyright; after all, they’re very keen to protect their own content. In May 2010, the Mail demonstrated that they have no idea how the web works.

Emily James, film-maker, uses Twitter and TwitPic, the service that allows easy image sharing. The Daily Mail used three of her images in print. When Emily wrote to them, with cost details, Elliot Wagland, Pictures Editor, wrote back with:

“… these images were taken from TwitPic and therefore placed in the public domain …”

Which is utterly incorrect. Twitter and TwitPic both have clear and decent copyright explanations, TwitPic’s say:

All images uploaded are copyright © their respective owners

With billions of pages online and billions and billions of images, assuming that it’s all a ‘public domain’ free-for-all is ignorant and disrespectful. Breaking copyright is immoral and illegal.

We mustn’t copy n paste stuff from the web onto our intranets or into our documents without respecting the terms in the copyright.

How you can use content that has full copyright protection

When you find an article on the web or within a book that you’d like to use, but you find that it has a succinct copyright statement or no statement at all, then you should not copy and re-publish the whole or a substantial part of it.

Example ‘full’ copy right statements

  • Copyright © 2010 Web Design Ledger. All rights reserved
  • © Melcrum Publishing 2010
  • BBC © MMIX

Although the examples above all look different, they all mean ‘full copyright; you must ask permission if you want to use our stuff’. Remember, if you cannot find any copyright statement you must assume it is ‘full’.

Three ways to use full copyrighted content

  1. Link to it – provide a hyperlink to the web page. Let your readers know why you think they should visit the external web page;
  2. Quote a few words from the content, give full attribution and link to the original page; quotes must be rather brief – don’t be tempted to copy whole swathes of content…
  3. Contact the writer, owner or publisher and explain what, why, where and for who you would like to re-publish their material. Wait for a response – their decision is final.

Dos and don’ts

  • Do link to websites and web pages around the Internet that you feel support or add value to your web / intranet pages;
  • Do quote people and articles with full attribution;
  • Do list a bibliography of books that have inspired and informed you;
  • Do write your own articles for your company that may be inspired by other people’s work. Write in your own words and list the articles / books that have helped you write your article in a bibliography. Provide proper attribution and links where possible;
  • Do read copyright statements to discover if you’re allowed to re-use their work commercially. You may not be making any money from the work, but you represent your company, and your company is a commercial entity.
  1. Don’t ‘copy n paste’ articles from the Internet onto your website / intranet without understanding your legal liability – i.e. the copyright of the original article;
  2. Don’t copy pages from books unless they fall outside of copyright (such as very old books);
  3. Don’t ‘over quote’ people in order to make use of their work. A quote should be brief and ‘quote like’. You cannot copy sections of an article and claim it’s just a quote. Quotes are very short;
  4. Don’t forget to give attribution for the quotes you use by providing the name of the person, the name of the publication and a link to it if possible. Maybe a date too;
  5. Don’t ever use other company’s documents, content from web pages, material from books, audio files, videos, images or anything as if it’s yours or your company’s unless you have explicit permission to do so. Don’t plagiarise. (Isn’t it just awful when a new starter joins the company, and all their work is just copy n paste jobs from their previous work at their previous company? Illegal!)
  6. Don’t consider the work you produce in the office, using company resources, as ‘yours’. It belongs to the company, you don’t have the right to copy it. This concept is really hard for people – “but I wrote it” they wail…


All of the above includes graphics and photos. One cannot simply trawl Google and ‘use’ images. Should you discover an image that you would like to use, find its copyright or permissions and adhere to them. Google can help you find images that are licensed for use, but it’s no guarantee. Creative Commons also helps you find works that can be re-used.

Sometimes you can find an image where the artist has given limited permission for its use. They may ask you to give credit / attribution and a link, or they may ask you to avoid using it for commercial purposes, in which case you may not be able to use it for your company after all.


The naming or the person or publication; similar to ‘citing’ an academic journal
Content, material, work
Written articles, spoken word, film, photos, images, graphics, documents, video files, MP3s, audio files, books, magazines, leaflets, web pages, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations et cetera.
The legal and moral right of ownership of work (not an idea, but of actual work).
Creative Commons
A pro-active alternative copyright based on three concepts: Attribution, Commercial use, Re-sharing.
Full or partial permission to use / re-publish the work.
Fair use
A non-legal term in the UK, not well defined, that attempts to say that it can be ‘fair’ to use someone’s clearly copyrighted material in some circumstances.
IP – Intellectual Property
Intangible property resulting from creativity (including patents, trademarks and copyrights).
Public domain
Content that has been released from copyright, either by the owner or after expiration of the copyright.
The lawful / moral ability to do something.
Held, not given to you.

For more IP links, check the ‘resources’ list at Claimr


Photo Credit: Indigo Goat – used with permission under Creative Commons

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  1. Thanks for your useful article about copyright problem, I tend to copy n paste the content from my local magazine to my web site but after reading this, I won’t.

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