Get Permission When Using Other People’s Material

Everything that somebody publishes to the Internet is covered by copyright automatically, whether or not it says so explicitly. Some copyright holders do make their material available for sharing, and in different ways. Here’s a list of the most common types of permission.

Be very careful when copying something you find online. It’s usually easy to do it, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do so! And it’s becoming easier than ever for copyright holders to track down where their material is being used.

When you’re scouring the Internet for material, you’ll find different phrases describing how you’re allowed to use that material. Here’s a list of the most common types of permission.

  • Public domain: The material is freely available for you to use in any way you like – including changing it and selling it.
  • Free: As it says, you don’t have to pay! Unlike public domain material, though, you don’t automatically have permission to change it. And the copyright owner might add other restrictions (e.g. Some free e-books can only be given away, while others can only be included in paid product bundles). Be sure the owner does have the right to offer it free, though. Some Web sites offer, say, a collection of clip art with the notice that they “believe these are free for you to use”. That’s not good enough, and could get you in legal hot water in the future!
  • Royalty free: This means you only pay once for buying the licence, but don’t pay each time you use it (unlike, say, a radio station that pays a royalty every time they play an artist’s song).
  • Reprint licence: This is just the name given to the copyright owner’s wording that spells out your rights in using the material. Generally, if you’ve “got a reprint licence” for something, it means you’ve got the right to pass it on freely – but possibly under certain conditions.
  • Creative Commons licence: This refers to a special group of licences, which make it easy for copyright holders to make their material available for reuse under certain conditions. The least restrictive Creative Commons licence allows you to use something without any restriction except giving credit. But other versions of the licence do add more restrictions (for example, not to be used in commercial projects), so read them carefully.
  • Resale licence: This usually means you don’t have the right to copy the product, but you can re-sell it on the owner’s behalf, and keep a share of the sale income.
  • Private label rights: This usually means you have the right to take the content and re-publish it under your own brand. This most often applies to some e-books, where the author gives you the original Microsoft Word document, so you can edit it in any way you like.
  • Master reprint licence: This means you’ve not only got permission to pass on the material, you’ve also got permission to pass on the licence. For example, if you’re involved in network marketing, you might want a master reprint licence to an e-book, so you can not only pass it on to your downline, but they can pass it on to their downline in turn.

These various terms might have your head spinning. But in practice, it’s just a matter of carefully reading the copyright owner’s wording.