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How to Use Content from the Web Legally

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definition of copyright

Recently, I've had a few issues with copyright violations of Modern Soapmaking articles, eBooks (included exclusively in our former Next Level group), etc. It made me realize that many people don't know if they can or cannot use the content found online. (Everyone I have had to contact has been great at removing copyrighted material, and I hope it stays that way.)

I want to talk about this because it's something I've noticed in our industry in general, especially when it comes to fonts! (I'm a slight type geek.)

Let's Dive In & Chat About The Basics of Using Content Legally

The great thing about the internet is that it opens up the doors for a huge amount of information, media, and resources available. The downfall is that for some, digital content can cause confusion about what you can do with it legally and blurs the line of traditional copyright law.

Let's go over what you can and can't do with the content you might find out there in the vast open sea of the world wide web:

I found something interesting in or on someone else's website, blog, eBook, magazine, etc. May I quote it?

Quote, yes. Copy, no. What's the difference, you might ask?

It's okay to quote a sentence or two from another website to support your own work on a topic or to pose an opposite opinion - usually. This tends to fall under Fair Use. You need to make it clear that you didn't write the content you are putting forth in a quote, by providing the original source, e.g. the place where the quote came from.

It's not okay to copy any amount of information, and use it as standalone material, whether that's on your own website, on a Facebook group, or via any other means of content publishing, unless you have asked express permission to do so.

So, if you really like an article and want to share it with others, send them the link. You can even quote a small bit of it to give them an idea of what it's about.

Additional resources:

May I link to someone else's website or blog post?

Yes, of course! For the most part, people love when they are linked, especially when it's in a positive manner - to share their work or to give praise. In some cases though, the owner may ask you to remove a link for their own reasons. It's up to you whether or not you do unless you have a reason to be concerned about legal matters. For example, libel or defamation. But we don't need to worry about that, right? ;)

May I use an image that I didn't create, but that I found on Google?

Probably not! Illustrations and photographs are copyrighted works of art, and the rights to use those images belong to the creator. In some instances, you can, e.g., royalty-free stock photographs. In those instances, you are looking at the specific license that dictates if you can use that image. You cannot use other people's works of art without their permission, whether it is a personal invitation or a license specifying that use.

So, no more Google image searches when you want to find a photograph of lavender fields to use on your social media, okay? Those images are found in the Google image search because they were created by other people and exist on their website. You wouldn't walk into someone else's house and put on their clothes or eat their food, would you?

There are a ton of great resources out there nowadays for royalty-free stock photographs that come with completely open licensing that allow you to do whatever you want with the images with or without credit (still, check the license for each photo!) I've listed a few below. ;)

Additional resources:

May I use a font I downloaded for my website, marketing materials, or logo?

Tricky, tricky! This is one that I have realized that many people do not think about!

First, let's clear something up. A font is a file you use to install a typeface on your computer or website. The typeface is the design of the letters, numbers, etc. The difference is important in the US because fonts can be protected but typefaces aren't. (So, technically, if you had the skill, you could recreate a typeface.) However, this is not the case in other countries! Onwards to the real question, here...

Fonts are copyrighted because they are tangible pieces of software created by the type designer. Oftentimes, when a designer releases a font for download on a website, it is with a personal usage license which means NO commercial use. Your website, marketing materials, and logo are commercial endeavors, dahling. So, when you download that font, install it on your computer, and then use it for your logo, you are breaking the rules the creator set forth for the usage of the font.

Before you use a font for your commercial purposes, check the license. If there isn't a license, then you probably have gotten your hands on a pirated copy of a font. (They are everrrryywhere.) Track down the original designer and find out what you can & can't do, or don't use it!

Oftentimes, a commercial license is available, and it will specify exactly what you can and can't do with a font. Some fonts, like the one I used here on Modern Soapmaking, are released under an Open Font License which means they are created to be used freely as long as you do not profit from redistributing them. 

I've listed a few of my favorite type foundries in the resources below. ;) Everyone knows I'm a type geek.

Additional resources:

Am I liable for content others post on my website via comments, reviews, etc.?

Probably... surprise! Because your website is under your control, you are ultimately responsible for the content that others post to it. You can lay out terms and conditions that dictate whether or not you are responsible for the material others contribute, but it may or may not hold up legally if something went down.

So, here's a little way this specifically impacts our industry... you know that stellar review you just received on your activated charcoal soap, where Sally says it cured her acne? That can be construed as you making a medical claim because you are publishing the claim on your website, and thereby supporting it.

The same thing goes for social media!  In fact, the FDA recently cracked down on a company for liking Facebook posts by customers that made claims as well as tweets. ;) The more you know...

So, I know that's a ton of info to digest, but I hope it makes sense!

I do have to totally say that this is an overview and really slimmed down basic version of what you can and can't do. And of course, I'm not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice.

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