Can you legally use copyrighted information found online?

Glenn W. Peterson

In this age of social media and sharing everything online, you may be concerned about the security of your copyrighted information. If you publish something online, do you lose your copyright protection? How does copyright work for online content? Copyright still is available and valid even when work is published online. The same rules apply just as if it were published in print in California. So, how can you or anyone else use information you find online without violating protection rights?

According to Stanford University, the first rule of thumb you should always follow when it comes to any material you find online is to assume it is protected by copyright. You should seek permission from the owner to use the material. It may take time to track down the rightful owner, but it is worth it to respect the person’s rights and avoid any possible issues that could arise from using material illegally.

There are a couple exceptions to this rule, though. Anything that is in the public domain can be used freely because it is no longer protected. Generally, anything published before 1923 or anything published by a creator who has been dead for at least 70 years, is in the public domain. The other exception is free use. Free use refers to a rule that allows you to use copyrighted materials in certain situations without having to get permission.

It is important to note free use is a complex topic. There are no hard rules, and it is generally left up to the court to decide if the use of material falls under free use.