NOTE: This content is for informational purposes only, and is actually a bit limited in its scope. It is not meant to be legal advice or to replace the advice of a qualified attorney.
The concept of copyright has international and local implications, and it’s best to refer to both an international and local resource (or attorney) to help you definitively learn this and decide what to do best.
One of Google’s most recently published YouTube videos is titled, Copyright (a holistic view), and it’s part of their Sustainable Monetized Websites series of videos (and they’ve used the hashtag #sustainablemonetizedwebsites).
The video had a number of segments, with titles such as What Is Copyright?, What Is Eligible for Copyright Protection?, and Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as well as others.
A good portion of the video basically talked about what Google does if someone claims that their copyrighted work is being unfairly used on a web page that’s indexed by Google.
Other than a legal disclaimer, one of the first points that Aurora Morales (the host of the video) makes, is that “Copyright is a form of intellectual property.” Basically, the person (or company) that makes a unique piece of work, such as an image, an audio, an audiovisual production, dramatic works, plays, musicals, software, etc, typically holds the copyright to that piece of work.
While the copyright holder is thought to have control over how their work is used, this is not absolute: fair use, or fair dealing, is one such limitation.
I would suppose that this is why one can use a quote from a copyrighted work, as long as attribution is given.
I’m jumping ahead here, but speaking of attribution, just because you give attribution does not mean that you’re allowed free reign use of a copyrighted work.
“Google does not allow content that infringes copyright,” Morales says at one point. My understanding is that, under international law, Google is obligated to remove infringing web pages from their index, and there’s a process by which they do so.
One law that Google uses to guide them is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.
Since a good portion of the video talked about the copyright removal process, I’ve chosen to briefly cover it.
The Copyright Removal Process
First, a copyright holder, or their authorized representative, attempts to contact the site where their copyright is being infringed. (For example, let’s say that you find that your IP is being used unfairly on the web page of a website. You can try to contact the owner or staff at that website.)
Second, if that doesn’t work, the copyright holder, or their authorized representative, can submit a copyright infringement notification. (For Google, this is done at g.co/legal.)
Third, Google’s teams will carefully look at the infringement notification. If it’s complete, Google will delist the URL (web page) from search results.
Fourth, Google will let the offending site know that a copyright infringement notification was filed against them, and that the specific URL (web page address) was removed from search results. (Google Search Console was said to be the means by which Google tries to contact the site, but not every site is in Search Console, and perhaps not every copyright holder even has a site, so perhaps there are other means Google will use to try to contact the site owner.)
In any case, Morales said that both the claimant and the site owner are notified through Search Console. (Of course, this is assuming that both parties have their sites in the Search Console.)
Fifth, if the site owner believes the original infringement was claimed in error, then the site owner can contact the claimant to request a retraction of the takedown notice, or the site owner can file a counter-notification.
For sites that have repeated copyright infringements, they may appear lower in the search results, and no (AdSense) ads may be placed on the infringing web pages.
Sixth, if Google believes the validity of the counter-notification, and of the right that the site owner has to use the content, it is then forwarded to the claimant.
Seventh, the claimant will then have 10 business days to respond, with evidence, that they are taking legal action against the site owner, in order to prevent the content from being restored. If they don’t provide this evidence, the content will be automatically reinstated (meaning, I’m sure, that the de-indexed URL will be re-indexed).
Eight, Google can’t resolve copyright disputes. That must be done in court.
What This Means for Content Creators and IP Holders
There’s a lot to distill here, but I’d say that you should know your rights (and reading this has hopefully been helpful), and be aware of how others can use your content. Read below for a suggestion (albeit not an entirely bulletproof one) of how I’d go about ensuring that my content gets indexed on my site first.
What About SEO and Site Scrapers?
When it comes to SEO, this is a bit murky, because I have heard this: “What if my site published a unique article that I wrote, then someone else takes my content, publishes it, and Google indexed their page with my content before Google crawls my site that originally had that content?”
I think this question was asked to Matt Cutts, who is currently no longer at Google.
I would think that the way a site scraper (which is just software that steals or ‘scrapes’ content) would know about new content is via an RSS feed. So, if your site has an RSS feed that gets instantly updated with new content, first see what you can do to pause it. (This might be tricky.)
Then, make sure that Google indexes your new content.
Then, you can resume your RSS feed.
Now, this doesn’t protect you from copyright infringement claims, but it is a prudent step that you can take.
One thing that I’ve personally used is a Copyscape banner.
What This Means for Website Publishers
Well, only publish content that doesn’t infringe on others’ copyright.
When using images, be sure to use only royalty-free images and images that you have permission to use.
There’s something called Creative Commons, which basically governs various IPs and how those IPs can be used. Some can be used freely, and some can be used with attribution. Be sure to learn more.
What This Means for Authors
Here’s a story I heard once from a very successful author-publisher.
Basically, she had written a book and wanted to publish it on Amazon Kindle. She’s not a cover designer, so she paid a designer to create a cover for her.
So far, so good.
Or was it…?
A while later, either Amazon or an artist contacted her, claiming that her book’s cover used a copyrighted image. She ended up having to pay the artist all of her book’s profits.
Since then, she makes sure that her cover designers use royalty-free images that they have permission to use (usually by subscription to something like Shutterstock).
So, as an author, you need to be careful that your graphic designer, who will have very little liability in this, doesn’t get you into trouble.
IP and copyright are things we should all be aware of and respect, so that as creators, we’re aware of how our content can be used, and as publishers and authors, we don’t make any costly mistakes (or allow others to get us in trouble).