And when I say "don't get caught", I actually mean don't violate copyright. I'm going to talk to you about how you can avoid copyright infringement in your content creation, but keep in mind that I'm no lawyer and I'm not providing legal advice.
Copyright laws were established to provide protection for creatives, such as writers, artists, designers, and other disciplines. The laws lay out what the creative's rights are and how they can be assigned. In other words, if you want to use something you don't own, you have to ask permission. It's really no different than asking your neighbour for a cup of flour.
Copyright protection is inherent in most works
Not all. Most. But I'm only focusing on works that do inherit protection.
This post is protected by copyright even though I haven't gone through the process of registering it. The automatic protection is one of the best parts of copyright legislation, but for more important works than a lowly blog post (say, the great Canadian novel?), it's not a bad idea to get intimately familiar with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
The Internet has brought copyright protection to the forefront of many people's minds, because creating quality content that gets attention isn't easy. I hear stories of bloggers having their content stolen on a regular basis. And there is an astounding lack of understanding about what constitutes theft of content. (Tax? Really? Massive misunderstanding right there.)
Theft of pictures
Search engines have this fantastic option to search for images. I use it all the time myself. Sometimes I'm searching for ideas. Sometimes I'm searching for logos. Sometimes I want to figure out what something looks like.
The thing about all those photos that come up in image searches is they're protected by copyright. It's super easy to right click and save them to your computer and then re-upload to your website or social media accounts, but when you do that without permission, you are potentially violating the rights of the owner.
Using pictures on your website is pretty much a requirement now, and having good quality images just makes you look like you know what you're doing and care. I'll write a follow-up post about how you can find good quality images without breaking the bank, but today's pro-tip is that searching for images on Google orBing is not the answer.
Breaking copyright laws can cost you
The downside of using a "free" picture you've found in an image search is the cost of defending yourself in a lawsuit, and shelling out damages to the plaintiff. Experienced photographers, in particular, zealously defend their work. And they should. Because if they don't, it can become a lost cause. The bottom line is that "free" picture can cost you many times more than the cost of licensing the photo for your legal, permission-based use.
Bloggers, unfortunately, don't seem to have the same options available to photographers and other artists. I couldn't find any cases of successful lawsuits over content theft. You're basically on your own to prevent/defend content theft.
Your integrity is worth the effort
I want to blog weekly, but time is limited and sometimes I just don't have the creative juices to come up with a good angle on any topic. So, I end up skipping a week or four or something. I would rather do that than lower my standards or steal from someone else. My integrity is worth more to me than that and it should be to any business that wants to succeed. Dishonesty online creates a record and the consequences can be far-reaching.
Know what is right and do what is right and you'll always be able to hold your head high and confidently defend your actions and choices.