Caring About Sharing: OR, Online Content and Copyright

People hate it when you share germs.

Some people also hate it when you share their music, images, memes, fanart, etc. without asking.

Sharing can happen very fast, and on a large scale on the internet. Some people and online communities embrace sharing, while others put up pay walls and passwords to prevent people from accessing their content without permission. But just because there’s nothing preventing you from accessing content, it doesn’t mean that content is free to use. Copyright laws still apply online. If someone made something, or posted a picture of something, they are the only ones who can share it, save it, copy it, and post it. Unless you are given permission to do so, it is important to be respectful of creators and let them be the only ones distributing their work. It isn’t always easy to know when you have infringed copyright. However, it is your responsibility to avoid doing it. Often, when you click on licensing agreements that let you use sites like Meme Generator, you are agreeing to follow copyright laws.

Infringing copyright online can have serious consequences. You know that awkward penguin meme? Well, the penguin image is actually owned by National Geographic. National Geographic hired Getty Images to manage its copyrights. Over the course of several months, Getty Images contacted several people who had posted the awkward penguin meme and warned them that they had infringed copyright, and would need to pay a licensing fee. You can read more about it in this article from the Washington Post, opens a new window.

So what if you need the perfect image to accompany your new blog post? Or a cover image for Facebook? There are several strategies you can use to find out if it’s ok to use images you have found. You can use this infographic, opens a new window as a guide. If you want to locate the creator of the image and ask permission to use it, you can use the strategies described here, opens a new window.

Not everyone is as protective as awkward penguin’s owners. Maybe that’s you! If you create content online, and want people to share it with each other, you might want to check out the Creative Commons website, opens a new window. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has created licenses for content creators to use on their works. You can pick the license that’s right for you. Want to be acknowledged for your work, but don’t care if people ask permission before using it? There’s a license for that!

Want to know more? Have a look at this book and others from the library:

Getting Permission


—Contributed by Victoria Salajko, Library Associate, Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library