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Copyrights and Bandwidth Theft

Copyrights are not limited to the real world, they also apply to the Internet. Some think they can take what they find on the Internet, but unless you have permission from the copyright holder it's a crime. Stealing bandwidth is also a crime. Learn about both issues in this article.


Unless you have permission to use an image or textual content from someone else's web site, using it is theft of their intellectual property. Most people who wouldn't shoplift from a store don't think twice about stealing web site content. Most do it out of ignorance, but ignorance of the law, as I'm sure you've heard before, is no excuse in the eyes of the law.

Many sites like mine make it clear that there are free images available. You may use those images since permission is granted beforehand. This does not mean you can do anything you want with these images, such as using them to create your own graphics archive. The creator of the images still holds the copyright and you are granted a non-exclusive license to use them. This license does not extend to other images not included in the free archives, and may be revoked at any time.

The same for textual content. Each page has copyright protection by virtue of being published, as long as the textual content is your original creation. This applies whether there is a copyright notice displayed or not. You cannot legally take textual content any more than graphics unless you have consent from the copyright holder. There are also sites that offer textual content you can use, usually for including their mandated credits or for a fee. I offer that in my member site.

Here are 5 common myths about copyright law.

If it doesn't have a copyright notice, it's free to use.
This was true at one time, but today most nations abide by the Berne copyright convention. Original works created after 1989 are copyrighted whether a notice is provided or not. This applies to web sites too. Once a web site is published (placed online) it has copyright protection. This includes text and graphics.
If I make up my own story based on someone else's story, the new story copyrights belong to me.
These kinds of works are called derivative works. If you write a story using settings or characters from someone else's work, you need that author's permission. The lone exception is for parody.
Copyright violation isn't a serious offense.
Depending on the parameters, copyright violation can be a felony.
If I don't charge for it, it's not against the law to use it.
If you charge for it, penalties and awarded damages can be more severe, but penalties and damages can be awarded whether you charge for it or not.
Copyrights expire after 3 years.
A work that is created on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life plus an additional 70 years after the author's death, or until the author has transferred the copyrights to another entity.

Final Note on Copyrights

Facts and ideas can't be copyrighted, but the way those facts and ideas are presented and the system of implementation can be. You can write about anything that you research, as long as you use your own words and style of presentation.

Bandwidth Can Be Stolen Property Too

Never link to an image file, sound file, or other file types on someone else's site so that it displays on or is used on your web site unless you have permission—it's a crime—and it's easy to get caught! This practice is called hot-linking. It is bandwidth theft because the other person's server has to send data (bandwidth transference) to your site. This slows their site and yours down, and costs them money if they go over their bandwidth allowance.

This is NOT the same as linking TO someone else's site to send visitor's there. Hot-linking is calling someone else's file to your server. Some sites, such as YouTube, pre-authorize the use of some content on your site by providing the link code. In that case, it's OK because you have permission.

Many free graphics sites get tens of thousands of visitors each week. If just 1/10th of the visitors that come here linked to just one graphic on my server, in just one year I'd be paying for bandwidth used on over 100,000 sites—for people that aren't even visiting my site!

If these sites only got ten visitors a day, that's 1,000,000 times per week my bandwidth is being stolen! You can see why sites shut down because of the high cost of popularity. People like me, who provide free things for everyone's enjoyment and benefit, end up paying money out of our pocket for illegal linking. That's just not fair, to me or my visitors—because illegal linking slows down the host site for their real visitors.

Just Be Kind :-)

Graphic artists and designers do not deserve to lose their web sites because of this ever-increasing problem. Please be kind enough to allow us that give so freely to keep enjoying what we do. If not, the best graphics sites will disappear and you will have to pay for every graphic you use. No more freebies!!!

You Can Easily Be Caught!

People don't realize how easily they can be caught stealing bandwidth and images. Each time a file is called from the server, it is recorded in what is called a log file. If you link to a graphic on someone else's server, it records the web site that the file is called from, so if you link illegally to someone else's files, each time your page is accessed by anyone, that is recorded.

You may think if you signed up with a free host you can get away with it. Perhaps you used a fictitious name and address when you signed up, and even used a free email account. All that doesn't matter.

Every time you create, modify or add to a free web site, or just send an email from your computer or a free account, your IP address is logged. Your IP address can easily be tracked to your ISP, who has logs of which account has used which IP address for each date and time. You are never completely anonymous on the Internet. These are the same files the FBI uses to catch child pornographers, hackers, and other nefarious types.

What The Law Says

Log files are considered legal evidence and you can be sued for stealing bandwidth (or copyrighted property). At the time of this writing, damages can be awarded up to $100,000 plus proven costs. Proof of monetary loss isn't necessary for damages to be awarded!

My images are watermarked so copyright protection is intact even if you use screen capture software to obtain the image. I haven't had to sue anyone, but I have had offenders sites shut down and they've lost their ISP accounts. I'm very serious about protecting my original content, as are all quality sites. Keep in mind I've only done this with sites that were violating my copyrights and refused to cooperate with my cease and desist request. I'm not looking for a fight, only to protect what I've worked so hard to develop.

In Conclusion...

The long and short of it is, don't steal images or bandwidth. It could mess up your entire life if you were taken to court and forced to pay 6 figures in damages. It's just as easy to do things right. Think about it!
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