Copyright is a complicated subject. Not only are the rules fairly vague in the areas that matter most, but the rules are also different for different countries, and sometimes even for different states or counties within those countries. When working over the Internet, this can become even more confusing; after all, who is responsible for what? If you do something on a service that is running in Canada, but you’re in India, what laws do you follow, how do you even figure out which laws apply?
Well, it would be impossible to give you all the answers without hiring a team of lawyers from across the globe, but we can give you some “best practice” advice for staying out of trouble, and treating other people’s works with the respect they deserve.
Copyright on Protagonize
Firstly, let’s talk about copyright on Protagonize itself. Protagonize, by default, allows its authors to select from a series of licenses maintained by the Creative Commons group. These various licenses are designed to define — in clear, easily understandable terms — the kinds of rights you want to give people regarding your work, as well as the rights you have regarding other people’s work published using those licenses.
You can choose from a number of different Creative Commons licenses on Protagonize, giving others a range of rights from being able to modify and sell your work without any restriction (barring attributing the work to you as the original author), to restricting people to only being able to use your works for non-commercial purposes, as long as they share their own versions under the same license terms as you have shared yours. The Creative Commons licenses, while designed to be understandable for the average person, also come with lawyer-friendly versions, in case you need to involve the courts. You can find out more about these licenses on the Creative Commons website.
You can also opt to select no license on Protagonize. This doesn’t mean you have no rights at all over the control of how your work is used; what it does mean is that your work defaults to being “All Rights Reserved“. Generally, in most legal systems, this means that nothing can be done with your work without your express consent. Of course, this would also mean it couldn’t be published on Protagonize, but by joining Protagonize, you accept the terms and conditions which include agreeing to allow Protagonize to display your work.
So, to summarize: what rights, as a Protagonize author, do you have over your own work?
- You can choose to distribute it under one or more licenses, or none at all.
- By default, all rights are reserved on works without an explicit license, meaning that no-one except Protagonize (whom you have authorised by joining the site) can use or display your work for any purpose. This includes creating derivative works, such as sequels, prequels, parodies, fiction that makes use of any portion of your work (such as fan fiction, for example), performing it (such as a public reading), copying it, or distributing it to other in any way.
- There are many different licenses to choose from, but on Protagonize, specifically, works may be published under a subset of the available Creative Commons licenses.
Now, what happens if you want to use something from somebody else’s work? Won’t you be breaching their copyright, an act known as copyright infringement?
The answer depends in exactly how you use the work, but the laws are a bit vague. Let’s talk about some specific scenarios.
Fan-fiction is a work created using characters, settings and/or ideas from another work. Naturally, all fan-fiction can be considered a derivative work, which is strictly against the rules of traditional copyright.
However, fan-fiction can be safely distributed with written permission of the original creators of the work you are basing your own work on. Many works creators do not care about strictly enforcing their own copyright and give carte blanche to others to create works based on their own. These almost always come with the restriction that you can’t use your derivative work commercially — so, no selling it or otherwise using it to generate profits.
Other copyright holders do not like derivative works of any kind being created without their express permission. If you want to be safe, always check with the original copyright holder before making any fan-fiction. The obvious exception to this rule is if the work is published under a license permitting derivative works, as many of the Creative Commons licenses allow. These licenses may have other conditions attached to them that you must obey to be able to legally create your work, such as attributing the original copyright holder (by mentioning in the story or the author guidance that you are basing your work on X work by Y author), by publishing your own work under the same license as the original, or by never using your work for commercial purposes.
For more information about copyrights as they relate to fan fiction, the following website may be of use:
In your works you may want to quote the works of others, such as a poem, some lyrics, or part of another story. Quoting is one of the most vaguely defined actions in copyright law, and so the safest course of action is to not do it at all without the original copyright holder’s permission. However, in many countries, content creators such as yourself have various rights known as Fair Use Rights. Fair Use Rights can vary wildly in different jurisdictions, and with the vaguely defined scope of what Fair Use Rights cover, it can be difficult to work out whether or not you can legally quote something.
As a good rule of thumb, Fair Use Rights can be said to cover the following:
- Quotes of text that are single sentences or short paragraphs (three or four sentences).
- Quotes from works considered to be more factual than creative (like encyclopedias or dictionaries).
- Quotes from works where the effect of your usage is minimal on the market value or commercial success of the source material (e.g. your work quotes part of a poem for context in a story unrelated to the overall collection from which the poem comes).
- Quotes used for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, and parody.
Quotes taken under fair usage can be used without notifying the original copyright holders at all. However, there is some content which you may wish to avoid quoting. Specifically, lyrics are often aggressively protected by rights-holders, and even quoting a single line may be unacceptable in their eyes, without paying for a license to use it.
Generally, courts are more friendly towards agreeing you have Fair Use Right when your own work is a non-commercial work and you are not quoting large amounts of individual works (say, less than 10%), while also attributing the original copyright holder.
As always, if in doubt, either don’t quote at all or seek permission from the copyright holder. The only exceptions to these rules is if the work is released under a license that allows remixing or derivative works, although you must conform to the other terms of that license to be eligible for those rights.
For more information about copyrights and fair use, these websites may be useful to you:
What happens if someone complains about you infringing their copyright?
First of all, on the receipt of an official “cease and desist” letter from the rights-holder or their legal representative, the work in question will be removed from Protagonize, and you (the author) will be informed. Should you wish to dispute the removal, you would likely be referred to the rights holder to sort things out directly with them. If you come to an agreement, both the rights holder and yourself will need to contact Protagonize with legal proof of that fact, after which your work can be re-instated on the site
What if you spot a work on the site that infringes on someone’s copyright?
Report the work in question using the Flag button and let us know. The moderation staff will investigate the matter and act accordingly.
What if someone is using one of your works without your permission?
If you discover that someone is using one of your works elsewhere without your permission, then it is your responsibility to engage them yourself to resolve matters. If someone has used your work on Protagonize, it’s simplest to contact the author directly on the site and explain the situation. If the problem can’t be resolved amicably, then please Flag the work for moderation and provide us with proof that you have original ownership of the work. An investigation by the moderation team will follow and you will be informed of the results.
In brief, the quick, safe answer to copyright is to never use anything that somebody else has created unless you have explicit, written permission, or the terms of the license under which their work is released allows you to do so (in which case you must follow the other terms of said license.)
For Fair Usage Rights, you are playing a bit of a gamble, and while you may indeed be safe from prosecution, you may have to pay legal fees if you decide to defend your rights — regardless of the outcome — so be aware of exactly where you stand. If not, default to seeking permission from the original copyright holder.