Bloggers beware! Copyright battle might be coming

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with Luxury Real Estate

A Floral Clock in Edinburgh, Scotland celebrating a century of Boy Scouts, copyright of rakastajatar on Flickr.Here's a helpful warning to bloggers: "Be prepared." It's the Boy Scout motto and it's also good advice for people in all walks of life. It appears that many bloggers, myself included, are a little unprepared for the possibility of close scrutiny of blogging. What if we were told that we had used too much of someone else's news article in our blog entry or that we got our facts wrong and are guilty of negligence or even defamation? It's a scary thought, but that's the risk we take in offering our work in a public environment.

Have you noticed that, as bloggers, our responsibilities and rules seem to be a little hazy and hard to define? It sometimes does to me. Luckily, in college I studied media law, fair-use doctrine and other libel laws, so I have a pretty good understanding of what is allowed and forbidden when writing content.

The rules can get pretty complex, but they boil down to the fact that writers need to respect others' rights by not stealing their work, spreading lies about them or being unfairly critical of people we disagree with. I don't believe I've witnessed any of that in the discussions I have seen on ActiveRain and the LuxuryRealEstate.com Blog, but it's still important to keep in mind. Kindness and honesty are generally essential for free speech and democracy to thrive. I have no desire to defame anyone because my goal is to uplift by exercising the Golden Rule as much as possible.

When you use a news story or another person's blog in your work, make sure to give credit to the person you borrow from. I always strive to do that when I write a blog entry, since much of my inspiration for writing about specific topics comes from news sources and other bloggers. Actually, this blog was inspired by two news articles: a Seattle Times article by Brier Dudley entitled "Battle of the day: AP vs. blogs," and Marcie Geffner's article in Inman News entitled "Is your blog a lawsuit magnet?" I highly recommend reading them both so you can make sure you're aware of some potential pitfalls.

The one thing I don't know too much about is the fair use of photos in blogs. I almost always provide a link to the source of the photos I use, and I try to include the photographer/artist when it's available. Maybe someone can help me out on this aspect of fair use because I'm unsure what the rule is there. Is it okay as long as we give credit to the person responsible for the work or do we need to obtain written permission? Speaking of which, the photo above is from www.flickr.com/photos/katiegail/1344714672, and it is the copyright of rakastajatar on Flickr.

In closing, I strongly advise you to pay close attention to Ms. Geffner's 17 questions in her Inman News article. I won't reprint them here because I wouldn't want to use too much of her work or remove the incentive to visit her site. As I read them, I went over in my mind the times when I had encountered these different situations or at least considered them. I hope this helps you be a little better-prepared in case anything like this might come up as you blog.

Happy blogging!

Author's Note: The photo above is different than the one I originally used. The reason for the change is because I wasn't sure if I was allowed to use the first photo, which was a painting by Norman Rockwell. I got the idea to check Flickr for a safer photo to use thanks to Ms. Geffner's comment below.

Comments (51)

Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

There are many misconceptions about "fair use" and copyright out there.  Real estate professionals are not intellectual property attorneys.

The "60 year" rule stated above is inaccurate.  There are different laws and protection terms, depending upon whether a work of art was created before or after January 1, 1978.

I recommend you not rely entirely on any copyright law interpretations obtained from colleagues on ActiveRain.  There is also some misinformation about copyright and fair use on the Web.

There is no one-size-fits-all "fair use" law that a person may rely upon.  Fair Use is determined on a case-by-case basis.

There are no sound recordings in the USA that are "in the public domain".  If you feel the need to use music in blog or on a Website, you will either have to record it yourself or pay a royalty to an organization such as ASCAP or BMI. 

There's no such thing as "free music".  If you "buy" music from a site which claims to be "royalty free", it is your responsibility to determine if that company has a valid license agreement with a royalty/licensing organization.  And in addition to copyright protection for the creator of a musical work, there are performance rights and royalties which may be owed to instrumentalists and vocalists who record that music.  The American Federation of Musicians is a good source of information on performers' rights.

Jul 02, 2008 05:49 AM
Anonymous
Jay K.

The rules can get pretty complex, but they boil down to the fact that writers need to respect others' rights by not stealing their work, spreading lies about them or being unfairly critical of people we disagree with. I don't believe I've witnessed any of that in the discussions I have seen on ActiveRain and the LuxuryRealEstate.com Blog, but it's still important to keep in mind. Kindness and honesty are generally essential for free speech and democracy to thrive. I have no desire to defame anyone because my goal is to uplift by exercising the Golden Rule as much as possible.


I love this paragraph above. Some have been harping about this for a while. Yet quite a few still dont follow this rule. There are quite a few breaking the rules. Time will only tell if the minority will hurt the majority.

Jul 02, 2008 08:42 AM
#35
Anonymous
Jay j.

The rules can get pretty complex, but they boil down to the fact that writers need to respect others' rights by not stealing their work, spreading lies about them or being unfairly critical of people we disagree with. I don't believe I've witnessed any of that in the discussions I have seen on ActiveRain and the LuxuryRealEstate.com Blog, but it's still important to keep in mind. Kindness and honesty are generally essential for free speech and democracy to thrive. I have no desire to defame anyone because my goal is to uplift by exercising the Golden Rule as much as possible.


I love this paragraph above. Some have been harping about this for a while. Yet quite a few still dont follow this rule. There are quite a few breaking the rules. Time will only tell if the minority will hurt the majority.

Jul 02, 2008 08:43 AM
#36
Gelanie Lockhart
Riverbend Realty - Cape Girardeau, MO

The general rule of thumb for writing in general is that any peice of writing you make should be comprised of no more than 10% quotes. You can have as much summary or paraphrasing as you want, but only 10% (some writing style guides say 15%) of your total writing in quotes. Those quotes, paraphrases and summaries must all be referenced in some sort of way so that you not only clearly convey who originally the information came from but where the original information was found.

In American law, paranoid is best (not so much overseas).

Jul 02, 2008 09:55 AM
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

I have decided that I have to use only my own photos to remove concerns about that particular part of copyright.

Jul 02, 2008 07:04 PM
Pam Dent
Gayle Harvey Real Estate, Inc. - Charlottesville, VA
REALTOR® - Charlottesville Virginia Homes / Horse

Robert - This is something that we all have to be aware of.  I agree with what many others have written about photos.  I either take my own, use free clip art or buy royalty free photos from istockphoto.

Jul 12, 2008 01:36 PM
Terrylynn Fisher
Dudum Real Estate Group - BuyStageSell.com - Walnut Creek, CA
HAFA Certified, EcoBroker, CRS, CSP Realtor, Etc.

Interesting post, reminds me of how we Realtors feel after coming out of a Legal update seminar which we are required to take to keep our errors and omissions insurance current...Makes  you want to quit the business.  Then you realize that the majority of your clients are good, hardworking people just like you and you go back to work.  It is important to note these things, but they can paralyze you if you let them. 

Jul 12, 2008 06:06 PM
Steven Nickens
Wailea Realty - Wailea, HI
R(S)GRI ABR, Maui Real Estate Hawaii

I wonder about a lot of the blogs I read where the material comes from.

Jul 13, 2008 09:12 AM
Sharon Simms
Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International - Saint Petersburg, FL
St. Petersburg FL - CRS CIPS CLHMS RSPS

Robert - congratulations on taking the law courses in college. I've received tremendous benefits from the law courses I took.  If a photo is copyrighted - by all means get permission, and in writing.  Also - if someone points out that you have incorrect facts on your blog post - correct it immediately!

Jul 13, 2008 10:50 AM
Sandra Carlisle (Ayers)
Berkshire Hathaway California Properties - Newport Beach, CA
Real Estate Marketing & Sales

I know how I feel when I find my work even linked to someone else's site without permission.  Just ask and follow the golden rule.

Jul 15, 2008 05:53 PM
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

Thanks for a great post, Robert. I worked for lawyers during and after college, so that has made me extra paranoid! But I must admit, I hadn't thought of getting permission from a photographer if you had gotten permission from the owner of a photo, say of an entrance to a community, amenities, etc., that they shot. I am joining the others and just going to take all my own photos and forego contacting any developers around to see about using their professional photos. It's not worth the hassle if any legal issues come up.

Aug 04, 2008 03:18 PM
Barbara Cluck-Miksits
BCM Home Staging LLC - Ridgewood, NJ
Home Staging - New Jersey

I always use my own photos. I take a lot of time doing so, I think it is better to reflect your own work.

Aug 04, 2008 03:22 PM
Harrison K. Long
HomeSmart, Evergreen Realty - Irvine, CA
REALTOR , GRI, Broker associate, Attorney

Robert .. thanks for this post about blogging, photos and fair-use doctrine and writing content.  Best wishes. Harrison

Sep 26, 2008 09:30 AM
Courtney Brown, Realtor (S) Vice President
Island Sotheby's International Realty - Lahaina, HI
Live a Maui Life!

I enjoy taking my own photos, and find it helps to showcase the area in which I specialize.

Jan 29, 2009 08:24 AM
Matt Horton
Corcoran Platinum Living - Scottsdale, AZ
North Scottsdale Real Estate

Good info! THanks

Feb 26, 2009 05:37 PM
Victoria Murphy
Sotheby's International Realty - Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe, NM

Robert,

I am finding it interesting that not only are copyrighted photos being used but so are real estate news articles.  I am seeing blogs with reprinted articles so that points can be achieved.

Victoria

Mar 18, 2009 09:54 AM
Jim Norbuta
RE/MAX Traditions (Cleveland, Ohio) - Chagrin Falls, OH

Robert,

This is my second week on AR.  Glad that I saw your post.

Many Blessings,

Jim & Joan

May 16, 2009 11:48 AM
Tyra General
240.706.7653 - Fort Washington, MD
DC Metro Short Sale & Luxury Specialist

I saw that many people have mentioned using their own photos. This is great. However, please remember that we can't just take pictures and video of whatever we want and use it however we want. Please be careful! Thanks for the post! God Bless!

Feb 11, 2010 09:11 AM
Debbie Bell
Norris and Company - Vero Beach, FL
Vero Beach Real Estate

Great article. I enjoy taking my own photos to educate people to are beautiful area.

Debbie

Apr 19, 2010 10:47 AM
Steve, Joel & Steve A. Chain
Chain Real Estate Investments & Mortgage, Steve & Joel Chain - Cottonwood, CA

Robert,

Obviously a great topic of conversation. There are MANY ActiveRain members who have developed a passion for photography once finding out about copyright issues. There are many other solutions that you and others have mentioned.

Steve

Oct 25, 2011 07:08 AM