A blogger recently found herself at the centre of a brouhaha after a magazine allegedly lifted her work – and then told her she should be grateful it had done so.
“But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it!”
Many people in the digital world have the idea that the usual rules don’t apply. But whether you are a blogger or reporter, or whether you are someone who wants to use material written anywhere online, the normal copyright rules apply to you. And it’s important to know that the Internet is not considered public domain.
Blogging is a form of writing (as is poetry and spoken word, verse, memoir and science fiction).
That means that work always needs to be properly attributed, and that you need to get permission to use it if it falls outside of fair dealing. Creative Commons licenses are commonly used on many blogs - read through our toolkit carefully so you know how the blogger has decided the work can be used.
Where do I get more information?
The digitization of the written word means that a lot is changing for writers on all platforms. The Google settlement has real implications for writers. We encourage you to contact writers’ organizations that have been following that issue closely, like Access Copyright which has been actively engaged in the Google settlement on behalf of Canadian writers and publishers, including a webinar on how the settlement works and why it matters to writers published in Canada. The Writer's Union has a lot of great information about publishing and contracts available.
Q: I’m writer, and I’ve been asked to turn my play into a TV series. The producers have asked me to transfer all of my rights in perpetuity in all languages in any media now or hereafter, and have told me this is standard. What does this mean?
A: It’s a fairly standard practice in the film and television industries (and many others) to seek exclusive rights that would enable a producer to exploit your work in every way they can think of forever and ever. That might not work for you: you might like for someone to be able to turn it into a film at some point, or do a theatrical production of it. If you aren’t comfortable with their terms, you can make the contract non-exclusive, meaning you can make it possible for more than one person to have access to your work, so someone else can make it into a play or novel, or you can make the contract limited in time, like five or ten years. If you are a screenwriter check out the Writer’s Guild and Praxis. If you are a playwright you can contact The Playwrights Guild.
Q: I’m writing a film script about a true event that happened in California last year. A homosexual, grade eight student (named Larry King) asked a male classmate to be his valentine on Valentine’s Day, and the classmate, later that same day, came back to the school with a gun and shot Larry in the head, killing him. What are the issues that I have to deal with, copyright-wise, when writing about a true event?
A: For any information that wasn’t in the news, you’ll be required to obtain rights from Larry King’s family/estate. However, that being said, lots of people make unauthorized reproductions of true events without actually being sued. The test is how similar your story and its characters are to be to the actual events of Larry King’s death. Legally speaking, there are publicity rights which factor in here (i.e., you can’t use someone’s image for commercial value without his or her permission or his or her estate’s permission). Also, if the material hasn’t been covered in the news, there is a risk of defamation, which means you can be sued for tarnishing someone’s name. For more information about defamation, check out our database.
If you don’t obtain the rights to tell the actual story, you should consider using generic pseudonyms. Consider using the actual events of Larry King’s death as a jumping off point, but putting as many of your own ideas - with regard to plot, character, narrative, etc - as possible into your writing to take the play further away from the actual events.