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I have a blog that discusses grammar in local languages. I publicized my email and asked for contributions from the readers and experts on the subject. How about copyright issues? If they contributed to my blog's content, do they own it? How can I prevent them from claiming their contents?

In honor of their contributions, should I place their names with it? How about the copyright issues?

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2 Answers 2

The contributors own the copyright to the content unless they assign it to you in some form.

Submission may or may not constitute permission for you to use the content. It certainly does not assign you exclusive copyright to the content.

To prevent the contributors from claiming their contents, ask them to assign you exclusive rights for whatever duration you wish, or in perpetuity. They may request reasonable compensation for such rights, or unreasonable compensation. They may not be willing to assign such rights at all. They might yell at you for asking.

Definitely attribute the content to the contributors unless they have explicitly agreed to assign you the rights without attribution.

I am not a lawyer. Seek legal advice about this stuff. The things you're asking about are terms normally negotiated in an explicit contract.

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Note that there are some standard license terms for "author owns it but someone else gets to use it without fear of it being yanked away later". For example, your contributions to Stack Exchange sites are covered under CC-SA (see the footer of every page on the site). Asking people to agree to a "standard" license may work better than trying to create your own. –  Monica Cellio Sep 10 '13 at 21:33
    
Note that the copyright cannot be sold/assigned to someone else in all countries. For example in Germany, the only way to "lose" your copyright is when you die (it will be inherited then). You may allow others to use your works in various ways, according to your terms/license, but legally you can never give away your copyright. –  unor Feb 23 at 21:51

Dittos to Dale Emery. I'd add:

Legally, the author of any creative expression owns the copyright to that creative expression unless and until they sell it or give it away.

Many blogs, letters-to-the-editor columns in magazines, etc include text somewhere that says that by submitting your comments you agree to give away some or all of your rights.

In the absence of any explicit agreement, I'd guess that a rational court (hopefully that's not a total oxymoron) would say that by submitting their comments to a blog, people are agreeing to an implicit contract to give you a license to post their entries, or why did they submit them?

But making it explicit is probably a good idea. What rights did you want to have? In my humble opinion, it's reasonable for a blog owner to say that he wants a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license. i.e. you can keep their post up forever and make it available anywhere, but they can use the same material elsewhere if they like.

Note there's a difference between "giving up your copyright" and "giving someone a license". You can let others use your work without giving up your rights. It's very much like renting an apartment to someone: You still own the apartment, you're just letting them use it. You have a contract, perhaps written and perhaps oral, that says what they will pay you, how long they can live there, and any other details either party considers necessary to specify (like can they have pets, who mows the lawn, etc.)

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Same note as to Dale Emery’s answer: The copyright cannot be sold/given away in all countries (for example, not in Germany). You may allow others to use your works, and you may even come up with contracts that don’t allow yourself to use your own works, but you’d still have the copyright, legally. –  unor Feb 23 at 21:55
    
@unor Fair enough. I am speaking of American law. I don't claim to know what other country's laws say. There are international treaties about copyright that, I think, make the law very similar through most of the world. But I am not a lawyer, certainly not an international lawyer. –  Jay Feb 24 at 14:05
    
@unor Though re-reading your post, it sounds like this may be a fine legal distinction. Under American law, you can sell a copyright to someone else, meaning now he can use your work freely and you cannot use it without his permission. You say that under German law, you cannot sell your copyright, but you can sign a contract saying that you can't use the work any more but the other person can. What's the difference? Oh well, I suppose there could be hundreds of pages of technical distinctions in the law. –  Jay Feb 24 at 16:52
    
IANAL either, but I guess the difference is that in the latter case you are "only" breaking a custom contract between you and the other party, and the contractual penalty might be non-existent/harmless/whatever (depending on what your contract says) - but in any case, I assume, the contracting party can never legally claim to have the copyright for your work. –  unor Feb 24 at 20:47

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