Exactly what constitutes copyright infringement can sometimes be difficult to determine; the line between fair use and infringement is blurry at best. Let’s take a look at three common questions about copyright infringement so that you can avoid the pitfalls yourself.
Q. Is it copyright infringement if you publish an English translation of a German novel?
A. If the German novel is still under copyright protection (generally, if it was written after 1923), then yes.
A copyright holder has certain exclusive rights, and one of these is the rights to any derivative works. A derivative work is, obviously, one that was derived from a previously copyrighted work, without which it could never have existed. The copyright holder of the German novel is the only one who can create — or authorize the creation of — any works based on that novel. Because of this, it’s clear that permission must be obtained in order to release a translation. If it is done without permission, it is copyright infringement.
Q. Is it copyright infringement if you publish a website of movie reviews?
A. No, if your website does not infringe on copyright holder’s rights in other ways.
According to the Copyright Act of 1976:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
Criticism and comment are valid, legal ways that you can use copyrighted intellectual property without permission. However, be sure that you do not reproduce more from the original than you need to — for instance, by quoting large sections of a movie — and be aware that the comment and criticism allowed by fair use does not include improperly hosting copyrighted movie trailers or archiving copyrighted photographs of celebrities without permission.
Q. If I find a picture on the internet, can I use it as long as I credit the author?
A. No — reproducing or displaying a copyrighted work without permission is still considered copyright infringement.
In addition to the right to create distributive works, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to display or reproduce his or her intellectual property. While it seems counterintuitive that promoting an artist could be copyright infringement — why wouldn’t an artist appreciate the free exposure? — in fact, the rightful owner has full legal control over how and when their work is displayed. Perhaps he or she has a good reason not to want their picture displayed to a wider audience; whatever the reason, displaying a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright holder is illegal.