Copyright infringement is, simply put, using copyright-protected materials without permission from the copyright holder or, in other words, an unauthorized use of one or more of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner. Generally, in an infringement claim, the alleged copyright owner must own a valid copyright in the work in question, and there must be copying of that work that falls within the copyright statute and that’s not subject to an exception.
This article highlights questions relating to copyright infringement.
As always, please do not rely on our short practical answers as legal advice or opinions. Contact an attorney should you be faced with a copyright infringement issue.
My organization’s website has several photographs on it. We have a written agreement with the photographer of one of the images, but a second alleged owner of the photograph recently asked us to remove it, with the claim that we didn’t have permission to post it. Should we remove the photograph?
You need to determine who in fact is the owner of the photograph and whether you have permission from this owner. Does your permission/license with the photographer state that that person is in fact the owner of the photograph, that it is an original work, and that the photographer has permission to enter into this agreement? Is the alleged owner who recently contacted you able to prove they own copyright in the photograph? Some investigation should reveal the owner of the photograph.
I recently purchased a DVD movie on Ebay. When I received the DVD the label on it seemed homemade and there was no box or cover for it. I assume it’s a pirated copy. Where do I report this?
Contact Ebay and the Motion Picture Association of America. You should also contact the seller and ask for your money back. For pirated computer software and digital content, contact the Software & Information Industry Association.
Can you go to jail for copyright infringement?
Most countries’ copyright statutes provide for some criminal liability for copyright infringement. It is unlikely that there would be criminal liability for photocopying a single article in a library. Criminal liability would be for large-scale piracy and likely willful copying where the user knew or had reason to know that their actions were illegal. Copyright infringement is defined in each country according to the laws in that country.
Will our company’s copyright compliance policy exempt us from liability for copyright infringement by our employees?
Although certain legislation or case law may provide some advantages for your copyright policy limiting your enterprise’s liability in specified circumstances, for the most part your policy will not exempt you from liability for your employees’ copyright infringement. However, your policy will help educate staff in your enterprise about copyright and in doing so may lower the occurrences of copyright-protected material being used without permission.
If I want to do a “Where’s Waldo” type of book, using a “Where’s ___________?” (someone else), what copyright issues need I be concerned about?
There is no copyright protection in ideas, so you can create a similar idea to the “Where’s Waldo” books. Your content should be original and not copied from anywhere else, unless you have permission to include that content in your book.
I’m an artist and plan to make a pencil drawing of a photo, with 25 percent of the drawing being different from the photo. Is that an infringement of copyright in the photo?
There is no percentage that makes copying legal or illegal. Copying any amount more than a “substantial” amount (which is not clearly defined in the law) requires permission. This is a judgment call in each particular circumstance and may require an analysis of fair use or fair dealing as set out in your country’s copyright statute.
As an online seller can I take a picture of a book or DVD cover and copy the synopsis material from the inside cover or DVD packaging, and simply reference it “as described by the publisher/author”?
You generally need permission to reproduce the cover of a book or DVD package you view online. Generally, the publisher/producer owns the rights to the cover art so start by asking the publisher/producer. Reproducing a small portion of the book may be permissible and it is arguable that copying the synopsis material may be legal; however, it depends on the circumstances in each situation. Summarizing the contents of the book in your own words is fine and does not require permission.
Is it an infringement to distort an image (e.g., create an animated GIF out of a static image, or an image on a button that changes color when you hover over it)?
When manipulating images in any manner, you may need the permission from the copyright holder for the right of reproduction and adaptation. You should also be concerned about moral rights (i.e., it may be an infringement of moral rights if you make changes that may harm the reputation of the creator of the work).
For other Q&A articles, see our Copyright Questions & Answers Portal.
You may be interested in our article Developing a Copyright Risk Management Plan.
To learn more about copyright law, see our copyright eTutorials.