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Copyright and the web


The internet has changed the way we interact and share information and resources, particularly since the rise of Web 2.0. The ease with which we can now copy, share and remix material has posed particular challenges to copyright, a legal system designed in the print age.

Finding material on the web

You can't simply use everything you find on the web. Most of the web is under copyright. However, there is a growing amount of material that is more open. The Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ site has a useful guide to finding open resources.

What can I use from the web?

This is actually a complicated question. If you find something on the web you would like to use, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the source of the material?
    If it is labelled as coming from somewhere else, is embedded in a site, or just looks like it came from somewhere else and is unattributed, then most likely the copyright is held by someone else. Check the source for usage rights.
  2. Is there a a 'terms of use,' 'copyright' or other licensing statement, such as a Creative Commons licence icon?
    This outlines what you can do with the material. If there is simply a statement along the lines of 'Copyright [Name] 2011' then the creator of the site is claiming 'all rights reserved,' the default copyright position, on the material. Note that there is a lot of poor practice in this regard. There are many sites with this type of generic copyright statement that in fact contain a lot of unattributed material created by others that the web site author cannot make such a claim about. So, such a statement will only apply to anything that is original to that site.

    If there is a Creative Commons licence applied to the material then the licence explains how you can use the material (see the video presentations elsewhere on this site for an example of CC-licensed work).

    Other material may be open access. This means you are free to use it under the terms outlined.

If the material is 'all rights reserved' these are your options:

  1. Use an amount of the material that would be considered fair dealing.
  2. Use the material in accordance with the provision of the New Zealand Copyright Act that allows educational institutions to store web pages for educational purposes, provided the provisos are met (see coursepacks in hard copy/Blackboard).
  3. Seek permission from the copyright holder.

Uploading material to web sites: who owns it?

Have you ever read the terms and conditions of sites like YouTube when you are uploading material?

For one thing you are agreeing that you are not uploading material for which you are not the copyright holder. A lot of this happens of course and large media corporations have very sophisticated means of checking if material is uploaded illegally. Still, a large amount of material is also uploaded by people who have no legal right to do so, even where this might seem inoffensive. For example, if you found a video advertisement on a web site and thought it was amusing, you can't legally upload this to YouTube because you don't own the copyright, even though the organisation would quite possibly be happy for the material, as a marketing video, to be seen by as many people as possible. (What you should do in this situation, of course, is link to the source, so that it can be viewed in its original context. This means you are not actually copying the file and copyright does not apply).

Publishing on the web: blogs, wikis, etc.

Web 2.0 formats allow us to publish material very easily and make it available to anyone in the world with internet access. Obviously this has copyright implications - particularly because it is so easy to create your own material and use that of others - so this topic is discussed its own page.