The history of copyright law
The idea of copyright law is not new or unfamiliar territory; the concept of copyright laws to protect intellectual property date back to 1710 in England, with the Statute of Anne, protecting literary or musical works. As technology has advanced over the years, copyright legislation has frantically had to keep pace with the various methods available for the copying and distribution of protected creative material – from pirate radio stations, to illegal copying of cassettes and CDs, to the advent of online file sharing services.
The most recent evolution of copyright infringement relates to the ubiquitous use of social media platforms in the developed world, from sharing copyrighted images on Tumblr and Instagram, to live-streaming copyrighted videos on Twitch, Youtube and Facebook.
Most social media platforms have fair use policies included in their terms of service. Users who breach these guidelines can have their accounts suspended or removed from the platform altogether, however, there may be more serious consequences for certain acts of copyright infringement online.
Social media copyright infringement has consequences
In February 2017, two Australian Facebook users, Brett Hevers and Darren Sharpe, live-streamed a boxing match only otherwise available to people with a Foxtel subscription. Their streams quickly became viral and had over 300,000 followers, but were shut down when Foxtel discovered what they were doing. Under Australian law, they could have been fined 60,000 AUD each, or spent up to five years in prison, but fortunately for them, Foxtel decided not to pursue legal action.
What are the rules in the EU?
EU directives ensure that all European member states have a framework for the protection of copyrighted material. The actual details of the law vary from country to country, so it is worth familiarising yourself with the laws of the country you live in, however, there are certain measures you can take to protect yourself from the consequences of accidentally sharing copyrighted material:
- Limiting the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that anything you share, such as social media photos, can only be viewed by friends that you know and trust is usually wise, but may not be possible if you are using a public platform like Youtube or Twitch to reach a wide audience
- Use images and videos that are licenced by Creative Commons wherever possible to avoid falling foul of video and image copyright infringement
- Some copyrighted material may be shared in the public domain as long as the sharing is covered by ‘fair use’. Fair use usually covers material which is publically shared for non-commercial or educational purposes such as study, research or criticism. If you are making money from, for example, Youtube or Twitch streaming, be especially vigilant that you are not accidentally sharing copyrighted material
- Check the guidelines of whichever social media platform you are using. Almost all social media sites will have a detailed list of guidelines, including guidance on fair use, which should both help you to avoid legal consequences, and also to avoid being suspended or banned. The guidelines are often based on widely-recognised laws, such as EU or US law.