Can you use copyrighted stuff in your blog or podcast?

Can you use copyrighted material in your personal podcast? What about “fair use”? And more copyright questions answered by entertainment lawyer Gordon Firemark.

What is a copyright?

Exclusive rights for the own of works of authorship to control how it can be used. Any fixed, original work can be copyrighted (audio, video, code, writing, etc.).

Ideas cannot be copyrighted.

Common copyright terms

  • Infringement—using copyrighted material without prior permission from the copyright-holder.
  • Derivative—repurposing material or making a new work from the original work.
  • Attribution—giving credit to the author.
  • Public domain—a work that is no longer under copyright law (typically anything older than 100 years and published in the USA).
  • Distribution—any method of sharing something: podcast, email newsletter, blog post, etc.

Can you use copyrighted material?

Nanny Jenny from the Nanny Cast asked about “performing” copyrighted works by reading them in her podcast.

Get permission! Any reproduction or performance of a copyrighted work without permission, is infringement.

Anything in public domain (like classic fairytales) is free for anyone to use.

If you’re denied permission or you don’t get it, then you have to look at how much you can use. Some will say that podcasts are small enough media that it won’t deter sales, but this should be used as support for asking permission, not for using without permission.

Using portions of copyrighted material (“fair use”)

Whether a sound clip, image, video, quotation, or other excerpt, you may be allowed to include it under the “fair use” clause in copyright law.

It can be complicated to determine what is “fair use.” It depends four things: context (nature of the use), nature of original, effect of the market, amount/substantiality of original.

  • Using up to a 60-second clip from a two-hour movie is such a small portion that it’s fine for commentary.
  • Referring to copyrighted content is fine in all cases. “Fair use” applies when you are directly reproducing a portion of the copyrighted work.
  • There aren’t any hard guidelines for limits. It’s a matter of how what is a “substantial amount” for your situation.

Sometimes, you can create derivatives (or mashups) with copyrighted material, but it’s still best to get permission.

Using a theme song from a show as our own theme is copyright infringement, unless you have permission from the copyright-holder.

Using a Once Upon a Time podcast as an example, we discuss that using content for segment bumpers without direct commentary is probably “fair use,” but it’s very close to on the line.

What about Creative Commons?

Creative Commons provides easy terms to explain the conditions by which you are sharing your content.

Finding content licensed under Creative Commons is easy and clear how you can use the material.

Commercial versus personal

Some material will say it’s licensed for only personal, but where is the line for commercial?

If you use the material for promoting or producing a product, it’s definitely commercial. But often, just having ads or affiliate links will push the podcast or blog from personal to commercial, because they are earning money from their content.

If you have ads, treat yourself as being commercial.

Should we copyright our own content?

You should be aware of how to protect your own original work. As soon as your creativity is put in a fixed form (like recorded or written), it is copyrighted. But registering your copyright is inexpensive (around $40) and provides easy protections, even financially.

Trying to protect your work without having it previously registered will cost a lot, unless you win.

Register your copyrights every few months, as you’re allowed to register within three months. You can group material together into a folio of works, like blog posts or podcast episodes.

Creative Commons doesn’t provide this legal protection that registration does.

Notice of copyrights

It’s a good idea to include a brief copyright notice in this format:

[Copyright or ©] [year of authorship] [copyright owner]

For example, I could add:

© 2012 D.Joseph Design

And it doesn’t hurt to include a brief mention at the end of your podcast.

Remember: get permission!

Get permissions in writing! Email does qualify most of the time. But signed paper is best.

About Gordon Firemark

Still upcoming in our law series

  • Trademarks
  • Privacy policies, disclaimers, and notices
  • Podcasting as a business with tax benefits

Podcasting poll: have you registered a copyright or trademark?

[poll id=”6″]

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As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his wife, Jenny, live near Cincinnati with their son, "Noodle Boy."

19 comments on Copyright laws for bloggers and podcasters – TAP077

  1. Teamwooten7 says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information! Last month I gave a presentation at the SXSWedu conference and was unprepared for questions about copyright. Now, as I continue to give more presentations, I will direct them to your site here and accompanying podcast!

  2. Jacob Doyle says:

    I’m a little foggy on the fair-use policy. If I was to use one or two relatively short sound bites from separate movies in my intro, so they’d be played every episode, obviously, would this be considered fair use?

      1. Bobby Brown says:

        I use a different clip everyday for my show intro, usually less than 60 seconds, is that considered fair use?

  3. Eric Tegethoff says:

    I have question about copyright laws and fair use pertaining to karaoke songs. If I were to have a podcast in which someone sang a song as part of karaoke, or even if it were just played in the background, whose consent would I need to release that? Is it different if the show is played on the radio?

    1. Pretty much everyone’s consent.

      Make sure you register for my free webinar this week, “What You Must Know about the Law and Your Podcast”! There will be some Q&A time, too. https://PodcastersSociety.com/webinar

  4. Zach Ebaugh says:

    So, a screenshot from an episode of something to be put in a review blog falls under fair use, right?

  5. Chad says:

    Thanks for the great article! So, if I wanted to include a few clips of a celebrity saying things, would that be fair use? Like if I had a clip of Bob Barker randomly saying, “Come on down!” and a few things like that, is that okay?

    1. noirlapin says:

      From what I understand, it would be okay to use if you were actually commenting on it or making it part of a transformative work, but would become infringement if you made it part of a bumper or introduction that you used all the time.

  6. Adrien says:

    I have a question, is literary analysis, or interpretation considered fair use? I think it falls under the commentary part? I saw that fair use could concern, research, education, journalism, criticism, commentary, but I did not see analysis , interpretation. Like if you talk about a movie you like and you explained the purpose of the director and you explain the symbolism.

    1. noirlapin says:

      I think analysis and interpretation would be covered under “commentary.”

  7. Adrien says:

    How it serves the purpose of the work, and so on,giving your own interpretations, my teachers do that a lot in class.

  8. Nate says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Great sounds like it is okay to use a music clip of 10 seconds and talk about the artist on the podcast.

  9. Bamone Payne says:

    Could i make a podcast about shows on the ID channel and use audio clips from their episodes on my podcast? It will be a very PRO-ID channel podcast so i figured its ok…

    1. Most likely, this is the kind of thing that would be allowed, and even partially encouraged, because you’re using the short clips for the sake of commentary, discussion, critique, and review.

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