What is Copyright? - 5 Myths about copyright


Ahhh, Copyright. A vast sea of “grey area.” There is a lot of confusion when it comes to copyright. What is it? Who/what is protected? When can you copy something? Why can’t I use this image, but I can use that one?

I have battled through teaching copyright for the past 5 years and I think I have finally come to understand it. At least, I understand it as well as any non-legal minded art teacher can. :)

My first year teaching, I am ashamed to say that I taught this lesson by downloading a PowerPoint, reading through it one and a half times, and then groping through the lesson slide by slide, trying to ignore the blank stairs that I was receiving from students.

Today, I actually enjoy teaching about copyright (insane, I know). I like the debates that inevitably crop up in class. I like clearing the muddy waters for them (or at least making the waters a little less murky).

In the next few blog posts, I am going to wade through the copyright issue and hopefully give you at least an inkling of what it is all about.

The first thing that we talk about is purpose; why do we have copyright in the first place? Answer? For the creator! The law allows for creators to have control over creations for a set period of time.

Next, we discuss the many myths associated with copyright:

  1. If it is on the internet, it is free to use!
    • The internet is a vast market place for everything from fine artowrk to exotic bird handling e-books! There are many resources that are free on the internet, but there are many more that are not!
  2. If there is no copyright notice, it is free to use!
    • Under federal law, the creator need not post their copyright notice. So unless the item specifically says “public domain” or “free to use,” DON’T USE IT!
  3. If I change the image, I don’t need anyone’s permission!
    • Adding a pig snout to a professional picture of Barak Obama is not necessarily going to transform the image enough in the eyes of the photographer to keep them from knowing that you used their image. Permission would be needed!
  4. If I don’t profit from it, it is free to use!
    • It all goes back to the market. If my use of an image of Hilary Clinton hurts her chance of winning the election, you better believe that someone will be checking to make sure that the image I used was not taken without permission!
  5. If I only use part of the image, it is free to use!
    • And this one is very similar to the previous one, I could take that picture of Hilary Clinton and obscure it so that only her eyes can be seen. But if someone recognizes that the photography was taken with out permission, I could be in big trouble!


I am not sure how I got into politics there, I promise I don’t usually discuss politics on my blog...

In the next few weeks we are going to dive head first into the infamous topic of copyright (fun!) and hopefully by the end of it you can at least recognize when you can and cannot use specific images or graphics.

Do you have any questions about copyright? Is there anything that you just don’t understand? Write a comment below and I would LOVE to help you figure it out!