Can I copy information on a website?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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You may duplicate information on a website, but within limits. So long as the copy that you are making is for personal use, you do not further distribute the material, and you make no “for-profit” use of the material, then you are in a safe haven under federal copyright law. However, Congress has just passed a law which makes duplicating sound and visual recordings this way illegal.

The record industry and the video industry are anxious to protect their products. There is a good chance this will be challenged in the courts. Some of the decisions have gone pretty far in finding copyright infringements in cases of what might more traditionally have been deemed free speech. For example, in one case critics of a church made available on their web site certain publications of the church. The church sued for copyright infringement and won some limited victories because it was held that the website publisher might have profited from his site in some way and therefore derivatively from posting the church materials.

It is lawful to duplicate information from a website when you are using it for any of the purposes under the fair use doctrine. These uses include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Additionally, anything in the public domain, such as online publications that are older than 1920 and anything published by the government, can be completely duplicated. The general rule is that unless the information is from a government website, you should be adding something to the information. For instance, if you are going to place a news story on your personal blog, you can quote the news story, but should also add your own input. This makes the duplication fall under the news reporting and comment exception.

Additionally, you can print and use any information on the internet for research purposes. So, if you are writing a book on a particular topic and found some useful information on a university’s website, you can still use and even quote the information. However, always remember to attribute the information to its source in your publication.

The reason you may not duplicate whatever you find on a website is that everything on the internet is considered copyrighted the moment it is written. This means that every blog, photo site, and even You Tube video is copyrighted material. While it may be tempting to re-post this information on your personal site, doing so does violate copyright law. So, never copy and paste or record and re-post content from the internet, because your republication will most likely not be deemed fair use.

Additionally, if your website is a for-profit website then you cannot duplicate information. So if your blog uses services such as adware, you cannot utilize the fair use doctrine. Instead, you must get consent from the original author to reuse their content.

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