To be protected by copyright, your content has to be original.
When copyright talks about originality, it doesn’t mean that what you create has to be completely new + novel. You don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart or Hemingway. We all know that creative works are iterative – we build on what has come before.
What copyright means when it talks about originality is that the content originates from YOU. You made it; it’s yours. You didn’t copy it from somebody else.
(This always reminds me of a school teacher lecturing students to “Keep your eyes on your own work!” and “Don’t copy the person sitting next to you!”). Copyright originality is a bit like that.
The general rule is that if you created the content, then it’s original.
What does this mean practically for bloggers? Most of us will draft the words in our blog posts ourselves, so those will be original. The same goes for photos we take ourselves. But for photos and images we source from other blogs, Pinterest or Google Image Search – no.
Even though this seems pretty simple, originality is one of the most complex parts of copyright law. This is because sometimes it’s difficult to say whether we have truly created something ourselves or not. For example, take the graphic above. I’ve taken a quote from Mark Twain and put it into a template I got from canva.com. Reasonable minds could differ about whether this is original or not. Some might say that simply putting someone else’s words into someone else’s template does not produce an original work. Others might say that there is some originality involved in the selection and artistic arrangement of these elements. Unfortunately, we don’t have clear case law directly on this point so we don’t really know on which side the law would come down.
Don’t let this scare you, though. For most of the things that you do, you should be able to tell, through common sense, whether the work originated from you. It just helps to know that sometimes originality can be murky and open to debate.
Interested in learning more about originality, or more specifically, how nothing is truly original? I highly recommend this TEDx talk (11 mins) by Austin Kleon. See also the fifth golden rule of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch: Nothing is original.
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