Copyright, often denoted with an encircled small letter ‘c’, is the entitlement to reproduce information or an idea. This entitlement is most often limited to the original author and those who he/she has extended the rights to.

The arrival of the internet, with masses of circulating content, has left the whole copyright system looking something of a mess. Many webmasters are left feeling confused and they are now asking themselves; who owns the copyright to this content? And am I allowed to use it on my site? If so, under what conditions? This article aims to address some of these concerns and hopefully save a handful of webmasters from law suits that could lose them a lot of time, money and, ultimately, their site too.

Webmasters are particularly at risk of breaking copyright laws if they own a site where visitors can submit content with only very limited copyright ownership verification processes in place. Just because a user ticks a box stating that they own the copyright for the item they are submitting, does not make it so. Equally, putting such as box on your submission form does not automatically absolve you from liability. As a webmaster you must be seen to actively discourage copyright infringement by acting to investigate and if necessary rectify any copyright infringements that are brought to your attention.

If you do not wish to put your legal-safety in the hands of others, it is probably best to avoid ownership of; article, video, music, photo, story, poetry and lyric submission sites. Famous user-dependent submission sites, such as YouTube, are coming under fire for containing content, that according to the opinions of some observers, infringes copyrights laws. For example, if I search for a particular song on YouTube.com, I am presented with numerous videos for that song – not all of which can have come from an official source. To YouTube’s credit they do often promptly delete unofficial, copyright infringing submissions, however, would you have the resources to control the content submitted by the users of your website in this way? If not then you could face a hefty law suit.

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