Readers might have noticed there’s been a certain flurry of interest just lately about online music. Essentially YouTube is taking all of its professionally-produced music videos down because it says the music industry wants too much money.

You can have the debate about the rights and wrongs amongst yourselves – but it puts me in mind of a discussion I had online with a man a couple of weeks ago. He’d commented in the press about his field of expertise, scanned the articles in and put them on his website. He was horrified to find himself billed for use of copyright materials by the agency responsible for such things.

Before you put anything onto your website, it’s essential to check that you actually have the right to reproduce it. UK law is straightforward; if you write something it’s yours unless you have explicitly signed it away, or unless you’re on your company’s time in which case it’s probably theirs. If you’re quoting someone else then there’s a thing called ‘fair use’; you can quote briefly to illustrate things but wholesale re-use of items without permission isn’t allowed.

It’s easy to get carried away like my contact did, and claim that if your quotes are in it then it’s yours. Actually only a fraction of the articles were his quotes and he certainly didn’t own the pictures, the layout, the magazine’s logo. If he’d put a link in then he’d have been driving traffic to the magazine’s site, they would probably have thanked him. You can also get aggrieved like a load of YouTube users who have been trained, more or less, to believe that they are entitled to free entertainment. No entertainer has ever signed over their rights to say that they’ll perform for nothing, and nor should they.

The same applies to photos (the myth is that if they’re on the Web already it’s fair to use them on your own site – it isn’t) and anything else that’s someone’s original work. Websites are brilliant things and an incredible way of communicating to loads of people that’s developed over the last decade or so – make sure you own what you put onto yours and it should serve you well.

This is a guest-post from Guy Clapperton, a freelance journalist who has specialised in the small business arena for over a decade.

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