African Bloggers Should Get this RIGHT | The Issue of Copyright Infringement


ask firstI cannot claim to be a copyright expert but with a degree in Law and a nearly completed Masters degree in Law, I have extensive knowledge on most law related issues—including copyright and as a blogger, I do believe I should help correct certain widespread misconceptions about online copyright among African bloggers…

Copyright infringement can either be a criminal or civil offence, depending on certain factors. What we must know is that there are strict laws in place to protect the intellectual properties of people—both online and offline.

The internet has made things easily accessible but it does not mean owners of self-created works or copyright owners forfeit their rights simply because their materials are online.

As a blogger, I acknowledge that it is difficult to stay clean online without one way or the other infringing on someone else’s copyright—nevertheless, great efforts and substantial care must be taken to ensure that this does not happen.

And even when it happens and your attention is drawn, you must quickly act in accordance with the law or you could face a long chain of consequence.

For many African bloggers, there is this misconception that you can take the content (be it article or image) of another blogger/person or from any website—and all you have to do is; write source and at best link back to the original owner when you use it on your blog…

This is unlawful and doing so violates the person’s copyright—something most of us regularly or occasionally do, out of ignorance or laziness…

When it comes to copyright, the default position is this; to use the content/material of any other person in this world; you will need express permission from such a person—unless the person has expressly stated that his work can be used for free without such permission being sought.

But then, you can imagine the sort of chaos this will create in the bigger online world if everyone has to email CNN and ask for permission to report or use certain quotes from an article they’ve written.

It is out of the impracticality of the default position of copyright law that we have the principle of FAIR-USAGE by which, you can use a limited portion of another person’s work (let’s say an article). And though what is a limited portion remains ambiguous, there is a general legal consensus (let’s say guidance) that, picking not more than 100 words from an article and properly referencing (providing source and link back) would amount to fair-usage. Here, you do not need permission to QUOTE PROPERLY 100 or less words of another person’s article—take note of my words; quote properly. You must source correctly (full name of the person’s website and a link back) just as you will reference properly if it was a school/university coursework.

What we must note is that, the principle of fair-usage does not invalidate a person’s copyright. Even if you take 5 words from someone’s work, you’ve in fact infringed on the person’s copyright but under the principle of fair-usage, this infringement can be said to be legally permissible—so you can argue that you have a legal excuse to do so if a claim is brought against you.

Interestingly, we see several websites picking, perhaps the right word is stealing paragraphs or entire content from other websites so we think this is allowed, provided we put a lousy source or credit at the end when we do it too.

Picking anything more than it can be argued under fair-usage from a person’s website amounts to a copyright offence—and the fact that others are doing it is not a legislative immunity for you to do it too.

What most African bloggers do not know is that, some of the big websites have written agreements amount themselves which allows them to pick each other’s content. And even that, they do not quote more than necessary (fair-usage). At worse, they will re-write the content (paraphrase) which is legally permissible as long as you credit the owner of the original idea.

I’ve always argued that the news is the same and no one really has copyright over the news but people have copyright over the wording of the news. For example; when TMZ broke the news that Michael Jackson was dead, every media house in the world followed this up with their own reports, words and account of things…

TMZ cannot claim copyright over the news but if someone went to their website and copied more than 100 words of their news breaking article, that will amount to copyright infringement. They have strict copyright over their words or sentences…

So the misconception that you can steal (take without permission) another person’s article provided you source the person or credit the person must be thrown into the gutters by the various African bloggers with little or no knowledge on copyright.

It wouldn’t take much of your time to read the article you are so interested in, re-write the article in your own words and provide the necessary credit as to where you got the information from.

Just as it is done in school, so is it in the real world. The difference is, while you will be penalized for plagiarism in school, in the real world, the consequence is even bigger. You will get sued for just using someone’s words or photos without permission.

We all seem to do it but we should remember the law does not change because a lot of criminals are breaking it and getting away with it. When you are caught, you will face the law as it stands and the doings of the others will not matter…

People’s whose copyright have been infringed on have every legal and moral right to go after the infringer—and it is pretty easy to do so online. You can bring the infringer to order by requesting in harsh words that the person should remove your copyright materials and desist from further violations.

If an attempt to get the copyright infringer to order and act within the law does not work, you can send a DMCA notice to the person’s website host, advertisers and even Google (search engines)—and this will draw a long chain of consequence for the infringer, including if not lucky, having his or her website shut down by the host. Websites hosts have a legal obligation to act swiftly upon receiving on DMCA notices—and Google acts fast too.

For More on DMCA Notice, CLICK HERE…

Even though it is difficult to stay within the operation of the law, ignorance of the law is no excuse—and as such, African bloggers must make it a point to learn the basic requirements of blogging or running a website.

Also, the fact that the person claiming you’ve infringed on his or her copyright is probably doing it to others does not invalidate his claim. Though he who comes into equity must come with cleans hands, we are talking about strict statue or common law, and not equity…LOL.

Stealing from a thief does not make your actions justifiable in law and until the thief is caught, he is free to protect his property—I mean not stolen properties but his legally owned properties.

Sometimes getting a DMCA notice is even better because at worse, you can be sued for copyright infringement and this includes just picking a paragraph of someone’s article—which you could be ordered to pay thousands if not millions of dollars.

So the next time you want to copy someone’s work—be it an image or content, THINK TWICE because one day, the person may come after you.


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Chris-Vincent Agyapong Febiri, Esq
I am a Hedonist, Contrarian, Traveller, Lawyer, Atheist, Thinker, Writer, Minimalist & a Professional Truth Sayer.


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