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Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement Claims

It's a very slippery slope when it comes to copyright infringement in the United States. Nonetheless, being accused of copyright infringement is a serious issue that should be avoided at all costs. Here are our top tips to keep in mind regarding how to prevent copyright infringement claims.

1. Learn About What Copyright Covers

Once you understand a bit more about what copyright laws protect, you will be able to better understand how to avoid being sued for copyright infringement. Firstly, you may want to consider familiarizing yourself with some of the basic copyright laws in the U.S, such as the U.S. Copyright Act of 1970. You should also look into some of the types of works that copyright laws protect, such as literary works, musical works, dramatic works, architectural works and more.

2. Don’t Use Anything Without Permission

If you want to avoid being faced with a copyright infringement lawsuit, do not use anyone else’s content without their explicit authorization. Licensing agreements are often necessary in order to properly and lawfully use someone else’s content. In some cases, it may be enough to simply send an email or message to the owner of the content asking for consent. Although it may seem excessive to ask for permission every time you want to use or share someone else’s material, doing so can allow you to steer clear of costly lawsuits in the future.

3. Create Original Content

Copyright laws protect works of unique expression. That’s why creating original content is key to avoiding copyright infringement claims. As long as you have made completely unique content that has not been created in the past, it is safe to say you will not have to worry about a copyright infringement lawsuit. Before releasing your work to the public, it may be helpful to conduct a prior work search to make sure the creation has not been done before.

4. Considering Purchasing Content

Some content creators charge a fee for others to use their work. Purchasing content is a great way to ensure that you are not infringing upon someone else’s copyrights.

You might be hesitant when it comes to shelling out cash to use someone else’s content. However, you should remember that it will almost always be cheaper than paying thousands in legal fees if you get accused of copyright infringement. A few popular websites that you can buy content from include Shutterstock, Bigstock and iStock. 

5. Review Relevant Ownership Guidelines

As a general rule, social media pages and other websites often have certain guidelines regarding illegal use of copyrighted content. These rules tend to differ depending on a number of factors, but a version of these guidelines can be found on every social media platform such as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In some cases, these rules may be written in complex legal language that is difficult to understand. You may want to seek the assistance of a professional copyright attorney to help you review these guidelines. 

6. Remember: The Internet Is Not Fair Game

Technically, anything you see or read on the Internet has been copyrighted by default simply because it was created by someone else. Therefore, even if you stumbled upon content on the Internet without a citation or watermark, it still belongs to someone else. Whether you benefited financially or not, copying, reproducing, or displaying someone else’s work from the Internet can be considered copyright infringement. 

7. Choose Royalty-Free Images

If you want to use a photograph from the Internet but are not interested in paying for it, you should use royalty-free images. While there is still a copyright in place, owners of royalty-free images choose not to enforce their rights to seek revenue. As a result, these images have no copyright restrictions. Popular websites such as Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons and Pexels offer royalty-free image options.

8. Use Reliable Sources

Even if you did not intend to infringe on someone else’s copyrights, you can still get sued for it. It is for this reason that you should always check your work for plagiarism and in any case, use reliable sources. Often, illegitimate sources may contain infringing material that you may not be aware of.

Blog posts, open-source dictionaries and other crowd-sourced websites should generally be avoided. Instead, try to use books and articles from reputable publications. 

9. Understand Fair Use 

Fortunately, the U.S. government offers a tiny loophole when it comes to using someone else’s work. Fair use of copyright is a doctrine in the United States that allows limited use of copyrighted material without needing to acquire permission from the copyright holder. Criticism, commentary, research and news reporting are common examples of fair use of copyright. As long as your use of the copyright falls under one of those categories, you should be able to avoid infringement claims.

10. Document Your Work

Proper documentation can be a lifesaver when it comes to defending against a copyright infringement claim. Using citations, keeping source lists and saving drafts and emails is a great way to prove that you are the rightful owner of your creative work. Moreover, if you have licensing agreements or other documentation proving your right to use certain copyrighted materials, keep them easily accessible. After all, a copyright infringement claim would be much more difficult to prove if you have written permission to use the material.

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