Using Content: Digital Content
Test Your Copyright Knowledge
What You Need To Know

Digital or electronic content, such as e-books, photographs on Web sites and electronic databases are subject to the same protections under the Copyright Act as non-digital, traditional or analog works. In addition, there are specific provisions relating to digital content in the 1998 amendment to the Copyright Act by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Many people assume that online content, or content found on Web sites, is not subject to copyright law and may be freely used and modified without permission. This is not true. Others think that online content is not protected unless it carries a copyright notice. This is not true either.

Copyright law protects almost all content on the Web or in any other digital or electronic form. Therefore, permission is most likely required to use that work beyond fair use.

What is Protected?
Any copyright-protected content in a non-digital form will be protected in a digital form. Examples of copyright-protected materials include:

  • Print and electronic books
  • Analog and digital musical recordings
  • Print and e-mail letters
  • Web sites
  • Embedded works in Web sites

Both electronic and non-electronic databases (such as professional directories and collections of images) may be copyright-protected if they reflect some level of creativity by the author in the selection or organization of the data. With the proliferation of new databases in electronic form, Congress is discussing new legislation to protect even those databases that do not meet the requirements in the Copyright Act.

Unique Uses
The electronic environment features methods of reusing copyright-protected materials. These methods include:

Scanning or digitizing a work (such as an article, book excerpt or photograph) produces a reproduction of that work. Prior to scanning a work, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder or its agent.

Using Content from a Web Site
Before using any content on a Web site, you should determine its copyright status and, if necessary, obtain permission from the copyright holder or its agent.

Posting Content to a Web Site
Posting copyright-protected content on a Web site requires permission from the copyright holder or its agent.

Forwarding E-Mail
The copyright in an e-mail belongs to the author of the e-mail. The copyright in an e-mail attachment belongs to the author of the attachment. You must obtain permission from the applicable copyright holder(s) or their agent(s) prior to forwarding an e-mail or e-mail attachment.

Linking to a Web Site
A link on a Web site lets you click and connect to another area of the same site or to a different site. A link from your site to another Web site (especially to a page other than the homepage) may need the consent of that Web site's owner. U.S. law is not clear on this issue. In an effort to be safe, many organizations only link their own sites to the public home pages (rather than the internal pages) of other Web sites. To ensure compliance, obtain permission even to link to another Web site's home page.

Electronic Discussion Lists, Bulletin Boards and Newsgroups
Copyright law protects all types of electronic discussions, including messages that appear in your e-mail inbox or ones that you access from a Web site or computer network. You should not reproduce or forward any comments from any electronic discussion list, bulletin board or newsgroup without the permission of the copyright holder or its agent.