Intelligent, informed, morally upright people have told me that anything on the web is public domain. They feel free to repost it, reprint it, resell it or re-use it in any way they wish without permission. Music, images, text–it’s all fair game.
Not so. The copyright laws apply to whatever is on the web in the same way they apply to whatever is in a newspaper, magazine, book, TV broadcast, radio or any other media. If it’s not fair use or if free use is not explicitly stated (as with something like wikicommons and wikimedia) then permission is required from the copyright owner. Here’s a couple more myths.
I gave credit to the original work, so I don’t need permission. Also false. Giving credit doesn’t mean your usage falls within the bounds of fair use.
The No-Copyright-Notice Myth:
If there’s no copyright notice, it’s not copyrighted. False again. The copyright law was revised to state that a work is copyrighted from the moment of creation even if there is no copyright notice. The copyright notice and registering it with the US copyright office do not confer copyright. It is merely a way to document the date of a work’s creation which can be of help if a question of plagiarism or copyright infringement arises. You can find a helpful list of other copyright myths here.
Yes, there are some who argue this is all wrong. The web should be free. It’s good for society and good for the copyright owner, ultimately, in spreading word. And some entrepreneurs follow this strategy–giving away content on the web as a sales tool for acquiring speaking engagements, consulting work or concert bookings. And that’s just fine. But it doesn’t change the reality that the material is copyrighted.
Some Christians argue that the gospel is free and so anything promoting Christianity should be free. Probably most of these people still pay their pastors and other church staff, however. The apostle Paul wrote, “The worker deserves his wages.” While there has been a huge emphasis on wiki sites, it can discourage some creativity. The church and society benefit when writers, software developers and artists know they can take the time needed to create because they will be fairly compensated. While Christians in particular would never think of pilfering their neighbor’s garden without asking, the parallel to taking their neighbor’s writing without asking should be clear.
What we can know is this: If it’s on the web, someone created it.