7 Copyright Myths That Could Land You In Serious Trouble
I often find myself browsing through forums and websites, looking at copyright questions and discussions posted throughout the web. Though there is a lot of great information and help out there, there are a few “copyright myths” floating around that could land you in serious trouble. The purpose of this article is to address some of the bigger myths out there, with the hope that anyone who reads this can avoid these unfounded tidbits of information.
1. If a work does not have a © symbol, it is ok to use it.
In the past, there were certain formalities an author was required to follow in order to obtain copyright protection. Today, under the current Copyright Act, a work is protected by copyright upon fixation; meaning that the moment a song is recorded, or a story is written down, it is protected by copyright. This is true regardless of whether the work has any notice of copyright protection. By putting a © symbol on your work, you are ensuring that any infringer is fully aware of your copyright, and this could lead to harsher penalties. But a copyright notice is not required, and just because a work is lacking one does not mean it is ok to use.
2. It is ok to use another person’s work if you give credit.
Something I commonly see on YouTube is people posting someone else’s work, giving credit to the author, and even sometimes claiming, “no copyright infringement intended.”
Unfortunately, it’s not this simple. A copyright holder has the right to choose whether or not you have permission to use his or her work. Although there are exceptions to this rule (e.g. fair use and mechanical royalties), in general, using someone else’s work without his or her permission is infringing the copyright, regardless of whether you give him or her credit.
Note: Giving the original author/artist credit might actually make it easier for him or her to find the infringement via Internet search. It also can make you more liable for your infringement since giving credit is evidence that you knew the work you were posting was not yours.
3. It is ok to use another person’s work if you do not make any money from it.
Although this is a factor the courts look to when analyzing fair use, it is far from true that non-commercial use of someone’s work is automatically not infringing. You have to look at all the fair use factors, and even then, fair use can be very difficult to determine.
4. Everything on the Internet is in the public domain and free to use.
Could you imagine if this were true? Today, millions upon millions of images, songs, poems, stories, etc., are posted to the Internet. Authors do not lose their copyright in a work merely by posting it to the Internet, and there is, in fact, loads of copyrighted works on the Internet. If you’re interested in how to find works you can use that are in the public domain, here’s a great guide: http://publicdomainreview.org/guide-to-finding-interesting-public-domain-works-online
We at the Dotted Line Reporter actually get most of the images that we use on the site from http://commons.wikimedia.org, another great source for images in the public domain or with free share licenses.
5. You can use up to 30% of someone’s work without infringing his or her copyright.
I’ve seen this myth on multiple web sites and forums. There is no bright-line rule on how much of a work you are able to use before it becomes infringement. The general rule is that it cannot be “substantially similar” to the original work. 
While the amount of the work used is relevant to weighing the factors in determining fair use, there is no percentage, or bright line rule as to how much of a work can be used. Depending on the type of use, it can actually vary greatly.
I hope to write a few articles in the near future on “substantial similarity” and “fair use,” so stay tuned.
6. You can copyright ideas.
The Copyright Act could not be more clear: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” 
So beware, if you share an idea with someone, they are free to use it. In order to protect your ideas, it would be wise to use contract law in creating some sort of non-disclosure agreement, but copyright law will not protect you here.
7. You can mail yourself a copy of your work instead of registering for copyright protection.
Copyright protection arises at the moment of fixation of your work. No copyright registration is needed in order for your work to be protected. However, if you want to sue someone for copyright infringement, Federal Courts require that you register your work with the Copyright Office. Mailing yourself a copy of your work will not supplant copyright registration, though it might provide evidence that you created your work before the infringer.
Copyright registration is only $35 and can be quickly and easily done online at: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/
I hope this gives you a quick glance at some of the basics of copyright law, and helps you avoid succumbing to the copyright myths that are circulating the Internet. Till next time, take care of yourselves.
The content on this website is not written by lawyers, and is not meant to be taken as legal advice in a particular case or matter.
 Berkic v. Crichton, 761 F.2d 1289, 1291 (9th Cir. 1985).  17 U.S.C.A. § 102(b) (Emphasis Added).