Copyright This blog post is copyrighted.

I didn’t fill in a form. I didn’t register anywhere. But the moment I started typing and putting these words into a new order, thought up by me, my words became copyrighted.

Because this blog post is copyrighted, I own it. If you want to use it, you have to ask permission. I might ask you for payment. I might say no. If I say yes, I have a right to be identified as the author of those words, when you use them (though I may choose to waive that right, for example, if you pay me more). 

In the same way my computer is my physical property, my words and pictures are my intellectual property. I own them. If you take them without permission, it’s theft. And make no mistake, it’s illegal. That's why you should care about copyright.

In reality, you’re probably not going to find the riot squad over your bed tomorrow morning with assault weapons, just because you reprinted one of my articles or photos without asking. But you might find a retrospective bill for £5,000 on the doorstep – which is exactly what happened to thousands of website owners who inadvertently used unlicensed images owned by Getty and Corbis, two of the world’s biggest picture agencies.

Some people reckon copyright doesn’t exist on the Internet. That it’s old-fashioned, or not really in the ‘spirit’ of the digital age. Friends, those are STUPID people. When you meet them, give them a quick slap round the head, just for me, will you? If there was no copyright, if you could just take anything you fancied, whenever you chose, there would be nobody left to pay the money that funds the great content in the first place.

The good news is that it’s pretty simple to ensure you're not infringing someone's copyright.

Don’t take photographs from Google Image Search (somebody, somewhere owns them). If you're doing this right now? Stop it. There's no need.

Instead, use images from stock libraries like iStockphoto and Flickr, and search specifically for ‘copyright free’ or ‘creative commons licensed’ images where the owners have given permission for them to be used freely, usually on the condition that they are credited as the image owner. Or use your own photos. Or use PR photographs, which are issued by companies to accompany press releases, and are usually copyright free. Or – random idea – if you're reviewing a film or toy or bedding range, ask the company to send you a picture.

If someone writes a blog post that inspires you to write a follow-up post, you might want to quote the original post. If you're reviewing a song, or film, or book, you might want to use quotes or clips in your review to illustrate your points. This is allowed under a part of copyright law known as 'fair dealing'.

Fair dealing means you quote as much of the work as it necessary to prove your point – and no more. You should credit the original author, and what you use shouldn’t prevent them from subsequently selling or licensing their work to someone else in future, if they want to. Never, ever, simply re-post someone’s work in its entirety, even if you credit them.

If you’re embedding photos, videos or images on your site, be very careful indeed. Don’t ever remove digital or visual watermarks on photos, even if they are right across someone’s face. If you’re using a video, use the ‘embed’ code the site provides, rather than copying the video and running it on your own site. If in doubt, drop someone a quick email asking permission for what you want to do. If you’re on the level, they’ll almost certainly say yes. 

Coming next: Part II: How to protect your copyright.

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.