Using Copyrighted Material The Right Way

Original Content

Here’s the long and short of copyrighted material.  Any original image, writing, or recording in a fixed medium (written down or saved as a file) is protected by copyright law.  If anyone takes a photo with their phone or camera, they have the rights to that photo immediately.  The same can be said for hitting save on a Word doc, Photoshop file, etc.  You have an immediate copyright to that content as well.  The only notable exceptions are when you create something for work.  In that case, your employer would own it.

If you want to use someone else’s content, you should:

  • Obtain Permission: Enter a formal agreement with the creator or through the terms of service on a user-generated content site. For example, you can embed YouTube videos wherever you like because all YouTube posters have agreed to its terms of service (including embedding videos by others).  Getting written permission is ideal.  However, you could still be ok if you ask the creator if you can use the content by sending a quick email or tweet.  A “yes” in any form of reply means that you’re good to go.  Just be sure to take a screenshot and save it just in case.
  • Engage in fair use: You’re allowed to copy work to criticize, comment, or parody. When you pull a block quote from Taylor Swift’s Facebook feed, there’s nothing she can do to stop you. But if you copy an entire blog post, expect trouble.  If you want more detail about what’s considered “fair use”, here’s a good copyright law overview.

Provide Credit and Links – Always

Try your best to trace down the initial creator of the content and credit it with a link.  Links are widely considered as currency that provide value to the content creator in the form of SEO and exposure.  Many content creators are in it only for the exposure.  They will be excited that you used their image, video, or writing – as long as it’s clear that they created it and not you.  If you do not receive permission and only give attribution you’re not necessarily legal but you’re way less likely to be called out on it.

Best practices are:

  • Find the original source: With so much syndicated content, aggregation, and sharing, it can be easy to give credit to the wrong person or link to the wrong site. To give proper credit, follow the trail of attribution back to the true original source.  This requires a bit more investigative work, but it’s worth it.
  • Use embed features. Many major social platforms supply codes that enable you to simply embed their content onto your own website.  YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are good examples of this.  Just make certain to browse every social platform’s embed policies and terms of service.  Normally, content embedded from social sites like Twitter is commonly legal to publish as long as you employ the platform’s embed code.  If you transfer and republish the content, you lose the legal authority to possess it on your website.  That makes it tougher for individuals to find their way back to where it originated.  For example, if you take a screenshot of a Twitter post it won’t link back to the original Twitter feed, but using an embed code of the post will link back automatically.

Stock Image Services

If you need an accompanying image for a news or blog post, in many cases a royalty-free image or illustration will suffice.  It’s important to note though that “royalty free” does not mean the image is free to use however you wish.  Royalty-free images may require a license fee to download but you are not required to pay a royalty fee each time the image is used.

Be sure to read the restrictions outlined in the image provider’s license, which may limit the frequency of an image’s use or preclude its use for commercial purposes.  Nearly all services require additional fees if the distribution goes past a certain point or if you plan to use the image for sellable goods.  Another limitation might be that images can be used online only and not printed on a billboard.

Creative Commons Content

Creative Commons is a type of licensed attribution where authors can specify that their work can be used in a certain way. To use Creative Commons content, you typically do not have to request advance permission or pay any type of licensing fee.

Just keep in mind that like all content, Creative Commons works are protected by copyright law. What is different about this items are that the creators of the work opted to make it available for use. The author of a work can decide how it can be reused or built on by the type of Creative Commons license chosen to accompany it.

Takedown Requests

If a content creator doesn’t want you to use their content, always honor that.  If you don’t have legal permission, don’t argue with the creator when he or she calls you out on in.  Arguing only gives the creator the ammunition they need to be used in court.  You don’t want that.  Apologize and offer to take down the content immediately.  With a prompt response, the content owner will most likely be understanding and take no action.

Protect your Content

As you create more and more online content for your station website, you may be on the other side of these issues. Want to check on the use of your original content by others?  Google and Google image search are the best place to start.  Another great resource is Copyscape.


If you use content from other sources, be sure to give proper credit or take the gist of the content and completely re-write it in your original words.  Above all, the best thing you can do is to create original content and use original artwork.

This article courtesy of Skyrocket Radio and originally appeared at

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Jim Sherwood
Jim is Chief at Skyrocket Radio. He started his radio career in 1988. Since then he has worked on-air in all day parts and held nearly every other station position at one time or another.