Copyright in social media, websites and blogs

Introduction

Copyright is a protection of an expression of a thought, not the originality of the thought or idea.

Copyright does not apply to ideas or information, only to how they are expressed in a material form (e.g. written as text or recorded as sound or images). Copyright refers to the expression of ideas or information in an original artistic, literary, dramatic or musical work, a cinematographic film, a radio or television broadcast or a sound recording. It applies automatically as soon as the work is created so in Australia, there is no need to register the work for copyright to apply. Copyright applies to all material in any platform including the online environment.

Definitions

All mention of the terms 'social media platforms', 'websites' and 'blogs' in this guide are referred to in the open access context, that is environments that are potentially open to anyone to access and view material. E.g. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook.

If the Social media platform, website and blog are locked down for access to ONLY La Trobe University staff and students, then the educational statutory licenses which are available to Australian Universities to enable copying and communication for educational purposes (see definition below) may apply for the use of any material.

More detailed information can be found here: Copyright Information for University Staff

Educational Purposes

The Copyright Act states that a copy of the whole or a part of a work is made for the educational purposes of an educational institution if:

  • it is made, retained for use, or used, in connection with a particular course of instruction provided by the institution; or
  • it is made, retained for inclusion, or is included, in the collection of a library of the institution

Third-party copyright material

Refers to copyright material to which another person holds the rights, that is, material for which neither you nor La Trobe University are the copyright owner.

What does copyright protect online?

Copyright protects material commonly appearing on websites, blogs, social media platforms, cloud-based services and the like including:

  • Articles, blog posts, text in a PDF document and a website's source code are protected as types of literary works
  • Photographs, digital art, game art, maps, charts and paintings are protected as types of artistic works
  • Digital music scores, MIDI files, chord charts, arrangements and guitar tablatures are protected as types of musical works
  • Screenplays, choreography and plays are protected as types of dramatic works
  • Recorded sound or music in MP3, WAV, MP4, AAC, or any other formats are protected as types of sound recordings
  • Movies, documentaries and videos in any format are protected as types of cinematographic works
  • TV broadcasts recorded in any format, (such as MP4 and AVI) as well as radio broadcasts recorded in any format, are protected as types of broadcasts

A website, blog or social media platform is not protected by copyright as a whole object or single item. Instead, its individual components are protected as discrete items falling into the categories of material noted above. For example:

  • The written articles and photographs on a blog, Facebook or twitter post will each be separately protected
  • The text, musical works and sound recordings on a band's website will each be separately protected
  • Text, video and images on a museum's website will each be separately protected

Using content created by others in websites, blogs or social media platforms

If you are using material created by others (third party material) in a website, blog or social media platform:

  • Be sure that you actually have permission when using copyright-protected material created by others
  • Keep records of any permissions you obtain

When you don't need permission to use material created by others in websites, blogs or social media platforms

There are some circumstances in which you can use material without permission from the copyright owner. These include:

Fair dealing

Australian copyright law contains fair dealing exceptions that allow copyright-protected material to be used in certain ways without permission including on websites and social media platforms.

These include fair dealing for the purpose of:

  • Research or study
  • Criticism or review
  • Reporting the news
  • Parody or satire

For more information on these fair dealing exceptions refer to the 'Fair Dealing: What Can I Use Without Permission' fact sheet available from the Australian Copyright Council here:

Fair Dealing: What Can I Use Without Permission

The specific circumstances of how using copyright-protected material without permission in an online environment will determine whether or not fair dealing applies.

Linking & Embedding

You are unlikely to raise an issue under copyright when linking to legitimate material (i.e. material that does not infringe copyright) in a website, blog or social media platform.

Embedding brings the material to the user without them having to leave the original site. Embedding should be avoided unless the platform hosting the material specifically permits this. Many sites that post video, music and image content, such as YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud and Flickr give the people uploading content an option to permit other users to embed it. If embedding has been enabled, there is usually an embed code noted near the content.

A common sense approach should be used when Linking and/or Embedding material from a source into your website, blog or social media platform. Risky sources of material to link to or embed include:

  • material available for free from third party sources before a local release date
  • films available for download at the same time the film is screening in cinemas
  • albums and movies uploaded to a file sharing site by private users
  • single compressed files of multiple albums from an artist
  • professional photographs that appear to have been taken from official stock photo or photographers' sites and uploaded to photo sharing sites
  • books from known publishers that appear to be scanned
  • films, music and eBooks generally available free from unofficial websites


Less risky sources of material to link to or embed include:

  • material from an official source such as a publisher, record company, movie distributor or business that produced the material
  • material from legitimate online stores such as iTunes , Google Play, BigPond music
  • material from the official sites of magazines and newspapers
  • uploaded music and video on official artist, record or film company pages on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and other social media platforms

The Public domain

Once copyright has expired in something, it is often referred to as being in the 'public domain' or as 'public domain material'.

Different countries' laws about copyright mean that the same content may be out of copyright in one country but still protected by copyright in another.

Example: Under Australian law, copyright has expired in a photograph taken before 1st January 1955, yet it could still be protected under US law. In this case, there is no issue with uploading or posting material within Australia and offering access to persons located in Australia. However, the copyright may not have expired in the US and the copyright owner may raise an issue in relation to access to that photo in the US.

Even though there is a risk of action, some people choose to accept this risk and use the material in an online environment particularly when the content can be legally used without permission in Australia.

For more information on how long copyright lasts refer to the 'Duration of Copyright' fact sheet available from the Australian Copyright Council here:

Duration of Copyright

Tweets, posts and comments on social media platforms: short phrases of text

Many online platforms incorporate capabilities for sharing content. Specifically in social media platforms, users signing up to the service usually agree to their posts being shared as part of the site's terms and conditions. Thus sharing third party material on these social media platforms using the provided tools is less likely to raise copyright issues.

Further, there may not be an issue where short phrases created by others are used even without such sharing enabled. This is because many short phrases are unlikely to be substantial enough to be protected by copyright

Examples: acronyms like 'imho' or 'lol' or a brief string of everyday words such as 'check this out', 'here's what I had for dinner', 'gorgeous sunset', 'cute dog' or 'funny cat'.

You can quote a few lines or paragraphs of text from a book or journal article, but it is more difficult if you wish to use a portion of a film, image or song. For these, you need to consider how key, essential, important and distinct to the overall work, the portion you wish to use is. Whilst many short phrases do fall into this category, each separate phrase must ultimately be considered on its own merits.

For more information on using portions of text or extracts refer to the 'Quotes & Extracts' fact sheet available from the Australian Copyright Council here:

Quotes & Extracts

Copyright Permissions

If one of the categories mentioned so far does not cover your use of material on your website, blog or social media platform, it is likely that permission from the copyright owner will be needed to use that content online.

Obtaining permission or obtaining a license to use copyright-protected material in the way you want and in the location you want can be achieved in different ways:

Express licences

There are some circumstances in which the copyright owner has already given permission for material to be used without having to first approach them for permission. These are commonly referred to as 'Express Licences' and include:

Creative commons

Creators who choose to release their material under a Creative Commons (CC) licence are indicating that they are happy for it to be used for certain purposes without first needing permission. The copyright owner generally uses any of these four standard conditions for their CC licence:
  • Attribution (BY): requires the creator of the material to be attributed when his or her work is used
  • NonCommercial (NC): restricts commercial use of the material
  • ShareAlike (SA): allows the material to be used or altered without permission provided that the alterations are usable under the same CC licence as the original material
  • NoDerivatives (ND): restricts people from make 'derivative works' such as remixes and mashups, but material can be copied without permission in its original unchanged form

Material released online under a CC licence may be copied, uploaded, embedded, posted and hosted without permission provided the use is within the conditions stated on the licence.

Example: An image released under a CC-BY-ND licence can be used as long as the creator is attributed and no derivative works of that image are made (a 'derivative' use could be cropping or mashing up or modifying the image in a substantial way).

More information: Creative Commons Australia

Or refer to the 'Creative Commons Licences' fact sheet available from the Australian Copyright Council here:

Creative Commons Licences

Permissions section of a website

Many people and companies set out the terms relating to permission to use their copyright material on the site itself. This usually happens in one of three ways:

  • The material itself may contain information on its permitted uses (there may be an indication near where the content is posted)
  • A section of the website entitled 'Copyright', 'permissions' or similar will contain copyright and permissions information for material on the site;
  • The site's terms and conditions of use will specify how material may be used

Further permission

If you want to use third party material in a way that is beyond the conditions of the Express Licence, in your website, blog or social media platform then you will need to contact the copyright owner for further permission.

It is then up to the copyright owner and the person requesting permission to negotiate the terms of the permission or licence to use the copyright-protected material in a website, blog or social media platform.

Moral Rights

Moral rights are rights that creators of works have and are relevant for any authorised use of their material on websites, blogs and social media platforms. It is highly recommended that you ALWAYS attribute the creator of the content. A creator of a work has three moral rights:

  1. Attribution: The right to be attributed by name
  2. Against false attribution: The right not to have his or her work falsely attributed as the work of another person
  3. Integrity: The right to have the integrity of his/her work respected, that is, do not do something to a work or use it in a context that prejudices or damages the creator's honour or reputation.

For more information on moral rights refer to the 'Moral Rights' fact sheet available from the Australian Copyright Council.

Frequently Asked Questions

Engaging on social media

Can I share (re-tweet, pin) someone else's copyrighted material that they originally shared on a social media platform on the same platform?

Yes, if the social media platform allows sharing of the content within the same platform. A user usually must agree to the terms and conditions of the platform before they upload material and this usually includes agreeing to the sharing functionality.

Can I share someone else's copyrighted material that they originally shared on a social media platform to another platform using an automated 'share' function?

Yes, if the social media platform allows sharing of the content to another platform. A user usually must agree to the terms and conditions of the platform before they upload material and this usually includes agreeing to the sharing functionality.

Can I share someone else's copyrighted material that they originally shared on a social media platform to another platform using cut-and-paste methods?

No. Social media platforms usually offer sharing functionality with interactive tools and 'cut/copy and paste' methods are not tools offered by the platform, rather, they are tools a user chooses via their computer. If the social media platform does not mention or offer specifically that 'cut/copy and paste' methods are allowable then this activity is likely to raise copyright issues.

Posting on social media

Can I copy a picture of an artwork and post it to social media without permission?

Yes, if the picture is out of copyright, or in the public domain. If not then meeting the requirements of a fair dealing exception could allow the use of the picture or using an express licence attached to the picture (e.g. Creative commons). If you want to use the picture in a way that is beyond the conditions of a fair dealing exception or licence then you will need to contact the copyright owner for further permission.

Where can I find images I can safely share?

Images that are out of copyright or come with an attached creative commons license from an authorised source can be presumed to be safe to share.

Examples of authorised sources of images that may be out of copyright or come with a creative commons licenses are:

How can I best give attribution on images licensed under Creative Commons?

All Creative Commons licenses require that users of the work attribute the creator. This is also a requirement under Australian copyright law. This means you always have to acknowledge the creator of the Creative Commons work you are using, as well as provide any relevant copyright information.

More information: How to attribute Creative Commons licensed materials

Can I share quotes from copyrighted works?

Yes, you can quote a few lines or paragraphs of text from a book or journal article provided you are not using a 'substantial' part of the work or the use comes under an exception under the Copyright Act such as fair dealing.
Whilst many short phrases do fall into this category, each separate phrase must ultimately be considered on its own merits.
For more information on using portions of text or extracts and fair dealing exceptions refer to these fact sheets available from the Australian Copyright Council:

How do I check that the link I am posting meets copyright requirements? (E.g. video, text, images etc.)

A common sense approach should be used when Linking and/or Embedding material from a source into your website
You must ensure that you are linking to the 'authorized' or legitimate material i.e. the material which has been placed online by the copyright owner.
Less risky sources of material to link to or embed include:
  • material from an official source such as a publisher, record company, movie distributor or business that produced the material
  • material from legitimate online stores such as iTunes , Google Play, BigPond music
  • material from the official sites of magazines and newspapers
  • uploaded music and video on official artist, record or film company pages on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and other social media platforms

Using social media posts in other contexts

Can I embed a social media post into my online article without permission? (E.g. a tweet?)

Yes if the social media post is hosted on an authorised site, contains copyright permitted material AND the social media platform allows the embedding of the post in another platform. Embedding should be avoided unless the platform hosting the material specifically permits this.

Can I embed a feed of social media posts in my website (e.g. via an API)?

No, unless the Social Media platform allows the ability to embed the feed through the normal operation of the site either by specific mention in the terms and conditions of use or via an interactive icon.

Contact

For further information covered in this guide or advice on any miscellaneous circumstance please contact:

David Janssen
University Copyright Advisor
Library
T: (+61 3) 9479 5360
E: copyright@latrobe.edu.au