Copyright: What You Should Know Before Using Someone Else’s Work

Have you ever had a video taken down from YouTube? Or maybe you’ve received a takedown notice for using a picture that wasn’t yours. Copyright law is something that affects us every day and is violated much more often than you think. Having basic knowledge about copyright can keep you from breaking laws that could result in a lawsuit.


So what is copyright law anyway? Copyright includes a bundle of rights that protects expression in a fixed medium that is available for sale or public distribution. For example, if I created a graphic and made it publicly available, I would have that bundle of rights to the graphic. This includes the right to reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public display, public performance and the right to transform the work. In fact, you don’t even have to register your copyright federally to obtain these rights. As soon as the work is put into a tangible medium, the rights are yours. However, registering your publication will help immensely if you ever decide to take someone to court for copyright infringement.


Copyright infringement occurs when someone engages in one of the copyright owner’s bundled rights without their permission. One common example is with illegal music usage in YouTube videos. For instance, if I used the song “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco in a video without obtaining the rights, I would likely receive a takedown notice or a Content ID claim. In addition to obtaining the rights, these notices could also be avoided by using music from music libraries, making original music, or using music in the public domain. Anything published prior to 1923 can be used without permission. Just make sure the version you use is not a newer version still protected by copyright.


For pictures, the easiest way to avoid copyright infringement is by using your own pictures. However, if that isn’t an option for you, one great alternative is to use a picture from a stock photo website. One resource I like to use particularly is Pexels because they offer free stock photos that can be used for both commercial and non-commercial use. Attribution is not required and you can even modify the photos as needed. On whatever website you use, make sure you check the copyright details to see what you’re allowed to do with the photo.


In my opinion, the best thing you can do to avoid copyright infringement is by thinking before you act. Is the content you’re using yours? If not, make an effort to acquire the rights. And, in general, it’s always a good idea to credit the creator of the work. Even if it’s not necessary, the creator will appreciate it.



Author: Adam Hesselbrock

One comment

  • There’s what is legally right and then there is what is right by the standards of a community. A fair use argument won’t protect you from the ire and disdain of any community dedicated to producing and protecting their creations. As someone who has been active for many many years in creating and participating in the online real estate communities, I can only provide a warning that if one were to consistently use other’s images, music, or content – even if legally it falls under fair use – it is only a matter of time before the community loses all respect for that person. It may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right.

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