Say Hello to the Copyright Genie!

As writers and editors, all of us will probably run up against the need to understand basic copyright law at some point. Is it OK to repost a poem in your blog? Can you use a snippet of song lyrics in your novel without getting approval from the artist? Which photos can you reprint when you run that magazine story on a newly identified Lady GaGa allergy?

I worked on a magazine staff for six years and learned a lot more about copyright than most people know, since we needed to consult it constantly to know whether we could print certain photos or articles. Still, copyright continues to boggle me with the complications of its restrictions, the inconsistent way in which it is enforced, and the, in my opinion, much too heavy-handed response when it IS enforced.

You know we live in a copyright-complicated world when most people don’t even KNOW that it’s illegal to remix movie clips and post it on YouTube (“What do you mean it’s illegal? People do it all the time!”), and where you can be fined a quarter of a million dollars for pirating a movie or showing it publicly without permission (Seriously? Did you violate copyright, or cut off someone’s arm?) My opinion about copyright is fodder for a whole ‘nother rant that I won’t go into any further, but despite disagreeing with the restrictiveness of American copyright, I tend to err on the side of legality. If you do, too, you might want to check out Copyright Genie, an interactive site that can help you determine whether the specific work you want to use is restricted.

Unfortunately, Copyright Genie can’t answer your question about any specific work, but it can help you get a better grasp on whether and how you can use something. Bookmark it, and have fun staying legal!