Can You Share Copyrighted Material? Here’s What Matters

In the big world of the internet, sharing content has become second nature.

Cool pictures, interesting articles, or bits of song sharing have become a part of our online culture. However, this seemingly harmless act can get a bit tricky when it involves copyrighted material.

Sharing copyrighted content without permission can get you in serious legal trouble due to possible copyright infringement.

Now that the concept of copyright infringement is out in the open, you might be thinking, “What should I think about when I share digital files in terms of copyright?”

Let’s answer that question and dig deeper into the concept of copyright and fair use so that you can steer clear of copyright issues in the future.

  • Always seek permission before sharing copyrighted material to avoid legal issues.
  • Fair use is a legal principle that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
  • Even when allowed, providing proper attribution is a good practice to acknowledge and respect the original creator.

Can You Share Copyrighted Material?

No, you cannot share copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.

The foundation of this answer lies in copyright laws, which serve to protect the copyright owner’s exclusive rights to their creation. Sharing their work without the proper authorization is a violation of these rights.

This rule works everywhere, whether you’re using copyrighted materials for yourself or your business. The big idea here is to ask for permission to avoid legal entanglements and hassles.

Requesting permission is a wise practice, and it’s advisable to seek it when sharing content.

In essence, discouraging the sharing of copyrighted material without permission highlights the importance of adopting a positive and legally compliant approach to using creative works.

Whether it’s a text, image, video, or any other form of artistic expression, following copyright laws is an important ethical practice in the digital landscape.

When is It Considered Illegal to Share Copyrighted Material?

Infographic about sharing copyrighted material.

Sharing copyrighted material becomes illegal if you don’t have the owner’s permission. This includes copying, sharing, showing, or performing the copyrighted work.

In whatever form of creative expression, unauthorized sharing is considered copyright infringement.

With that in mind, you might be wondering if simply giving credit to the original creator is enough, it isn’t.

It’s worth noting that even crediting the original creator does not automatically grant you the right to share their work. While giving credit is a good ethical practice, you can’t overlook the importance of legal permission.

Failure to obtain permission can lead to serious legal consequences, including fines and injunctions. This is why it’s extremely important to stay on the side of caution and seek proper authorization before sharing any copyrighted material.

When Can You Use Copyrighted Material Without Permission?

While the default rule is to seek permission, there are specific scenarios where the use of copyrighted material is allowed without clear consent from the owner.

These instances fall under the doctrine of “fair use,” a legal principle allowing you to use copyrighted material for specific purposes.

Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1986 states that “fair use” of copyrighted material “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

Let’s look at this a bit closer. 

Criticism and Commentary

Fair use allows you to use copyrighted material when providing criticism or commentary. This happens when you use it in a way that changes or adds new ideas to the original work. For example, quoting a portion of a text to discuss, and criticize its content may be considered fair use.

News Reporting

Fair use permits the use of copyrighted material to illustrate or support news stories. This could involve showing excerpts from a video or using images to enhance the reporting of current events. But, it has to be directly connected to the news story and not just replace the original work.

Teaching and Education

Educators often rely on fair use when using copyrighted material in the classroom. This includes displaying images, excerpts from texts, or playing portions of audio or video content for nonprofit educational purposes. It’s important to note that the use must be directly related to the curriculum and not for commercial gain.

Scholarship and Research

Fair use allows researchers and scholars to use copyrighted material in their work. This could involve quoting from books, using pictures in academic papers, or putting parts of copyrighted works into research projects. The key is to make sure it’s for scholarly or research reasons and helps build our understanding.

Parody and Satire

The use of copyrighted material in parody or satire is usually allowed under fair use. When creating funny or satirical works that comment on or criticize the original, creators may use copyrighted material as long as it serves a transformative purpose. Courts look at how much the new work adds value or says something different.

Nonprofit and Personal Use

Fair use may apply in situations of nonprofit or personal use. If the use does not involve commercial gain and is for purposes such as personal enjoyment or noncommercial activities, it may be considered fair use.

But figuring out if something is commercial or not can be tricky, and getting legal advice might help make it clear.

It’s important to understand that the determination of fair use is case-specific, and there are no strict guidelines. Courts typically consider factors like the purpose of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount used, and the effect on the market value of the original work.

Remember, fair use is a defense rather than a blanket permission, so it’s advisable to seek legal advice if you’re unsure.

In summary, fair use is like a helpful guide for using copyrighted stuff without asking the owner, but only in certain situations. Still, it’s important to handle each case with a good grasp of the rules.

6 Important Tips to Consider When You Share Copyrighted Digital Files

Now that we’ve covered the legalities, let’s move on to some practical tips to avoid copyright infringement issues in the future.

  • Understand the Terms of Use: Before sharing any digital content, you need to review the terms of use or licensing agreements. Some works may be under licenses that permit certain types of sharing or use. Ignoring these terms can lead to legal consequences.
  • Obtain Written Permission: If in doubt, always seek clear, written permission from the copyright owner, just to be safe. A simple email or signed agreement can go a long way in protecting both parties and ensuring clarity on the terms of use.
  • Use Creative Commons Licenses: Some creators intentionally share their work with specific permissions using Creative Commons licenses. Familiarize yourself with these licenses to understand what you can and cannot do with the content.
  • Stay Informed About Fair Use: Educate yourself on the principles of fair use. While it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, understanding the concept can guide you in making informed decisions when dealing with copyrighted material.
  • Credit Appropriately: Even if you have permission or are using content under fair use, providing proper attribution is good practice. It acknowledges the creator’s work and helps build a culture of respect within the creative community.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you share copyrighted material without permission?

No, sharing copyrighted material without explicit permission is risky and may lead to legal consequences.

What is fair use?

Fair use is a legal principle that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes like criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

How do you know if you have permission to share something?

You should obtain explicit, written permission from the copyright owner before sharing their material.

Can you share copyrighted material for educational or nonprofit purposes?

Fair use may apply in nonprofit or educational settings, but it depends on the specific circumstances.

What is a Creative Commons license?

A Creative Commons license is a type of license that creators use to specify the permissions for using their work, allowing them to retain some rights while permitting certain uses by others.

Rae Marie Manar
Rae Marie Manar is a licensed lawyer with a Juris Doctor degree, specializing in copyright, data privacy, and intellectual law. With a wealth of education and expertise, she aids clients in going through the intricacies of these laws, guiding them through the legalities, processes, and requirements tailored to their personal and business needs.