What is Copyright?

Which types of work are subject to copyright?

Copyright ownership gives the owner the exclusive right to use the work, with some exceptions. When a person creates an original work, fixed in a tangible medium, he or she automatically owns copyright to the work.

Many types of works are eligible for copyright protection, for example:

  • Audiovisual works, such as TV shows, movies, and online videos
  • Sound recordings and musical compositions
  • Written works, such as lectures, articles, books, and musical compositions
  • Visual works, such as paintings, posters, and advertisements
  • Video games and computer software
  • Dramatic works, such as plays and musicals

The Copyright Office has information online, and you can check with a lawyer if you want to know more.

Can I use content from a work that’s protected by copyright?

Copyright holders have the right to control most uses of their works. In some circumstances, it's possible to use a copyright-protected work without infringing their copyright:

  • You've checked with the copyright holder, who has allowed you to use the content. It's a good idea to get written permission from them, for example, in the form of a license agreement.
  • Some copyright holders make their works available to others for uncompensated reuse, with a few requirements. To learn more, you can read about Creative Commons licenses.
  • In some cases, you can use content from a work that’s protected by copyright without getting permission from the copyright holder. That's because some uses of copyrighted works are considered "fair use" or may fall within a limitation or exception to copyright law such as fair dealing. If you're not sure whether the use you’re considering is legal without permission, you may wish to consult a lawyer.

What if I state that "no copyright infringement is intended"?

If you don't have permission to use copyright-protected work, your content could still be removed even if:

  • You gave credit to the copyright holder.

When giving permission to use their work, some copyright holders ask that you do this. In some cases, you may also need to credit the copyright holder if you plan to use their work in a way that you consider fair use or fair dealing. However, this doesn't automatically give you the right to use the content without permission.

  • You bought the content, including a physical or digital copy.

Owning a copy means you might be able to sell that copy or give it to a friend, but it doesn't give you the right to publicly share that content with the entire internet.

  • You're not making a profit from the content.

While it's more likely that non-commercial use can be considered fair use, or might satisfy the requirements of some licenses, not making a profit alone doesn’t always mean your use is non-infringing.

  • You've seen similar content elsewhere on the internet.

Those other users might have gotten permission to share the content, or they may be using the content in a way that can be considered fair use.

  • You recorded the content yourself from the TV, a movie theater, or the radio.

Making your own copy from one of these sources doesn't give you the rights to the underlying content.

  • You copied the content yourself from a textbook, a movie poster, or a photograph.

As with the above, making your own copy doesn't give you the rights to the underlying content.

  • You've stated that "no copyright infringement is intended."

This never helps. Copyright infringement is a "strict liability" offense. This means that when the courts decide whether there was copyright infringement, they don’t look at whether you intended to infringe or not.

Can Google determine copyright ownership?

No. Google isn't able to mediate rights ownership disputes. When we receive a complete and valid takedown notice, we remove the content as the law requires. When we receive a valid counter notification we forward it to the person who requested the removal. If there's still a dispute, it's up to the parties involved to resolve the issue in court.

What's the difference between copyright & trademark? What about patents?

Copyright is just one form of intellectual property. It isn't the same as trademark, which protects brand names, mottos, logos, and other source identifiers from being used by others for certain purposes. It's also different from patent law, which protects inventions.

What's the difference between copyright & privacy?

Just because you appear in a video, image, or audio recording doesn't mean you own the copyright to it. For example, if your friend took a picture of you, she would own the copyright to the image that she took. If your friend, or someone else, uploaded a video, image or recording of you without your permission, and you feel it violates your privacy or safety, you may wish to file a privacy complaint.

Copyright infringement notification requirements

The easiest way to file a complaint is to use our legal troubleshooter.

Copyright notifications must include the following elements. Without this information, we will be unable to take action on your request:

1. Your contact information

You'll need to provide information that will allow us to contact you regarding your complaint, such as an email address, physical address, or telephone number.

2. A description of your work that you believe has been infringed

In your complaint, be sure to clearly and completely describe the copyrighted content you're seeking to protect. If multiple copyrighted works are covered in your complaint, the law allows a representative list of such works.

3. Each allegedly infringing URL

Your complaint must contain the specific URL of the content you believe infringes your rights, or we'll be unable to locate it. General information about the location of the content isn't adequate. Please include the URL(s) of the exact content at issue.

4. You must agree to and affirm both of the following statements:

  • "I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law."
  • "The information in this notification is accurate and I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed."

5. Your signature

Complete complaints require the physical or electronic signature of the copyright owner or a representative authorized to act on their behalf. To satisfy this requirement, you may type your full legal name to act as your signature at the bottom of your complaint.

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