5 Copyright Hazards to Avoid

Most bloggers understand the importance and the value in creating original content. Most would be at least somewhat upset to their own writing used on other sites without permission or attribution and many actively track their work for misuse.

However, there is more to being a good copyright citizen than just writing your own content, quoting only what you need to in your entries and attributing your sources. Your blog is much more than just text and there are many copyright “hazards” that even well-intended bloggers can step in.

That’s why last year, almost to the day, I wrote an article about holiday copyright hazards for bloggers to avoid, But while the holidays are an especially dangerous time for copyright issues, they are a potential thorn in the side year around.

So with that in mind, here are five copyright hazards to avoid, regardless of the time of year.

1. Images

If you treat Google Image Search as your personal stock photo library, you’re pretty much asking for trouble. Not only is it likely a copyright infringement, unless you filter results for images that allow reuse first, but as image matching technology improves, including services such as Tineye and Picscout, more and more rightsholders, large and small, are tracking their works.

When you seek to include an image with your post or use one in your theme, it is important to make sure that you have clearance to do so. Failure to do get permission can, and often does, lead to big headaches down the road.

How to Avoid: Avoiding this one is simple, when you look for an image, find ones with Creative Commons license that you can use. WordPress users can use the PhotoDropper plugin to greatly speed the process along.

2. Themes

When it comes to copyright and blogs, few things are stickier than themes. Themes have many different components, some of which may or may not be GPL depending on your blogging platform of choice, and many theme developers, though well-intended, make mistakes when clearing the rights to the work they use.

To make matters more complicated, many themes have licenses that require the user to keep a footer on the site or pay a certain amount to remove it.

Considering how critical your theme is to your site, it makes sense to make sure that it is up to code in terms of copyright.

How to Avoid: You have to think of themes in three different parts, the code that runs the site, the stylesheets/JavaScripts that aid it and the images that make it give it polish. If you use WordPress, the code itself is probably GPL-licensed, making it available for you to use, but the stylesheets, other scripts and images probably are not. As such, you need to make sure that you are complying with the license of the theme itself and you will likely want to replace the images in the theme, both to ensure proper licensing and to make the theme “yours”.

Also, try not to stray from the official WordPress theme directory for free themes. The requirements Automattic places on themes for inclusion (full GPL themes, no hidden links, etc.) ensure that the themes are safe from all sides.

3. Embedded Content

Though the odds of you getting in trouble for embedding YouTube clips into your site is fairly slim, putting content into your blog that you know is likely infringing can leave you with broken embeds and a lot of embarrassment.

It may not be as bad as some of the other hazards in terms of the consequences, but having a lot of “video removed” embeds on your site is ugly, especially considering that YouTube doesn’t notify embedders that the content has been removed (just the submitter). As such, the down videos could stay on your site a very long time without you being aware.

How to Avoid: The easiest way to avoid this problem is to embed only from official YouTube channels or from official sites such as Hulu and TheDailyShow.com. However, one has to be careful even there as these videos often “cycle off” after a certain number of days, making them no longer available. While still annoying, at least you know of it before hand and it doesn’t say the video was removed for copyright or terms of service reasons.


Comments may not seem like much of a legal danger, and indeed they aren’t on many sites, but as more and more blogs focus on interaction and community, comments become a more and more crucial part of the site, often times outweighing the original post many times over.

You may not control what people post on your site, but as the one with the power to use the “delete” key, you do have obligations under the law, at least if you are blogging from the U.S.. EU and other regions with a “notice and takedown system”. As such, even if it is only an outside chance, its important to be prepared for the possibility you may be called upon to act.

How to Avoid: First, discourage comments that are infringing, a key element of any set of comments guidelines, and delete any comments which are clearly infringing. Then, make yourself available and ensure that your contact information is easily located on the site. If someone contacts you about an infringement that takes place in the comments and does so in a way that complies with your local requirements, remove the infringing material.

Doing that should ensure that you avoid the worst of the potential dangers.

5. Fonts

Using a font in an image, perhaps for a logo, or using it to design isn’t going to land you in any hot water, however, if you embed the font or otherwise have users download the font to their machine, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a copyright dispute.

Though we tend to think of fonts as being trivial things, they are, in most cases, protected by copyright. Though you can use them in the intended manner, distributing them to others is not allowed without permission.

As such, you need to be careful not to distribute fonts on your site without a license to do so. This pains many graphic designers and typographers, who wish to use custom fonts on their site, but the legal risks are very real.

How to Avoid: The easiest way to avoid this is to not make any fonts available for download. Even if you use a free one, you may not have the right to redistribute it.

But more than a potential copyright violation, it is also annoying to have to download a font to make a site work correctly. As such, it’s best to stick to web safe fonts and put your fancy text, which should be kept to a minimum regardless, in your images.

Bottom Line

The Web, at times, can seem like a copyright minefield and for good reason. There are a lot of pitfalls to worry about and void. Some of it is common sense, but many of the dangers lie beneath the surface.

It’s worthwhile to educate yourself on the law, especially as it relates to you and your site geographically, and follow it closely. Failure to do so can result in a slew of copyright headaches and results in all of or parts of your site being shut down.

If you’re spending the time to write a blog, craft new content and promote it to your readers, you owe it to yourself to take the extra time to make sure that it is around as long as you want it to be.

It doesn’t make any sense to risk your hard work because you were unaware of the pitfalls around you.


  1. says

    If you use WordPress, the code itself is probably GPL-licensed, making it available for you to use, but the stylesheets, other scripts and images probably are not. As such, you need to make sure that you are complying with the license of the theme itself and you will likely want to replace the images in the theme, both to ensure proper licensing and to make the theme “yours”.

    This would have been so much simpler if the WordPress team said that only 100% GPL and 100% commercial themes would get official recognition on WordPress.com and .org. Only a real bastard mixes the two.

  2. says

    Thanks for the excellent article, just wanted to add some recent news for fellow Internet journalists, Wavelog is able to post text, audio, photos and videos to Joomla or Drupal powered Web sites. With the support for this two free open source content management systems it becomes a great choice for journalists over expensive proprietary solutions.
    Thanks Telewaving and open source community.

  3. says

    How about bloggers who are not located in the US but their webhosts are? Would they still be covered by US copyright laws? I’m still a bit confused on this matter.

  4. says

    What is your opinion of disclaimer on sites that indicate the site owner will take down images if the alleged author requests. Is this lawful compliance under U.S. copyright law?

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