So, just what is copyright and what is that little © symbol we see so often? The symbol © actually represents “copyright”; that a work has been copyrighted. Copyright is the author of a work stating that this work belongs to him/her and do not use it without their permission.
Copyright applies to many things on the web. Software you create, links, images, articles, videos, emails and even html language sequences are protected by copyright. This means that other folks cannot copy or reproduce your work without your permission. Technically, you cannot forward someone’s email to you without permission!
The term, “Fair Use” is used to describe the conditions that you may use an original work without the author’s permission. Generally, when referencing a work such as an article, if you post a short amount of it and give credit to the author, you have not violated copyright. This falls under fair use. To parody a copyrighted character is considered fair use also. Fair use is difficult to fully define. It must ensure that you do not derive or diminish from the original work of the author or degrade the value of the original work.
The use of works clearly marked as for public domain will not constitute copyright infringement. If a copyright term has expired, the author has passed away or has lost copyright protection, it is considered public domain also. Certain Federal Government documents that adhere to 17USC105 are also in the public domain and may be freely used.
Be careful when using anything you did not create yourself when designing pages for use on the web. Always assume a work is copyrighted if you are unsure. It’s good ethics to give credit to where credit is due and not representing other peoples’ ideas as your own.