Copy-Pasting from the Internet Can Land You in Jail

A copyright exists at the moment of a work’s creation.
IMAGE Pexels

Artists, such as photographers, painters, illustrators, graphic artists, and writers are some of the most common victims when it comes to copyright infringement. One of the reasons why this is happening is because of the ease and speed of how one can lift copyrighted material off the Internet. Another reason is the difficulty in tracking down who lifted and used those materials and when.

In fact, the problem has become so rampant that Google has had to put its foot down. In 2018, the search engine giant removed the “View Image” button from its interface to make images harder to steal and to direct users to the image’s original creator or source.

Another issue is the seemingly innocent act of sharing a textbook’s content online, which is commonly done by teachers and students through online presentation apps such as SlideShare and Prezi. Reproducing or copy-pasting textbook material for educational purposes has its limits under the law.

For example, contents of a book should only be copied and reproduced for a classroom setting and should not harm the market or sale of the book. The amount of work copied must be limited to excerpts, like text from a single lesson expounded on by the user. Publishing lifted text on SlideShare and Prezi violates these three exemptions in the Fair Use policy of copyright law.

Reproducing or publishing a substantial part of a book on such online presentation apps can get you jail time of 1 to 3 years and a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 pesos.


Recently, Filipino artist Feanne called out UK fashion brand RIXO for allegedly stealing her design. For many artists who are victims of copyright infringement, it’s simply too tedious and costly to pursue a legal battle against big brands like RIXO. For the rest of us, we many not be aware of the consequences of lifting designs off the Internet.

We know the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines is a tedious read, so we've condensed it to answer some of the most common issues experienced by artists, writers, students, and teachers.

I created an artwork / piece of literature. Should I register it with the National Library for copyright protection?

Copyright exists at the moment of creation. You don’t go to the copyright office to “register” your work’s copyright. What happens at the copyright office in the National Library is NOT copyright registration but copyright recordation, according to Josephine Santiago, Director General of the Intellectual Property Office.

Having your copyright recorded simply adds a layer of protection for you when it comes to enforcing copyright law.

As an artist, what rights do I have over my works?

Every artist has the right to prevent anyone from reproducing, transforming, or distributing their work. For writers, this includes stopping anyone from dramatizing, translating, adapting, abridging part of your work, and making a public performance based on your work.These form the gist of your economic rights over your work.

I authored a book, but the editor made so many changes that the content is no longer recognizable as the original, and then they published it. What should I do?

Publishers and their editors have the right to edit, arrange, and adapt your work, unless you stipulate otherwise in your contract. They can also change your work’s typographical arrangement, such as its style, composition, layout, and general appearance.

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However, it is your moral right to refuse to be attributed with work that has been heavily distorted, mutilated, or modified that it becomes unrecognizable from your original work and negatively affects your reputation. Before the work is printed and published, you have the right to approve its final draft, or withhold it from publication. The editor’s job is to make recommendations for changes to you as the author, not to add content or transform the work itself that it becomes unrecognizable from the original.

If the work is already published and your name appears as its author, you can write a demand to the publisher for damages, especially if you are the sole author indicated in your publication contract. You can also order them to cease and desist from printing and distributing such materials.

I uploaded an original artwork online through a licensing platform. I saw a street artist painting it as a mural without my permission. He posted it online and it went viral. Did he violate my rights?

Yes. As the creator, it is your right to prevent the public display of your work or a copy of your work.

This includes preventing copies of your work or parts of your work from being painted as murals, printed on clothing, printed on posters, and more.

A long time ago, I took a photo of a parade and uploaded it online. Years later, it appeared in a textbook. The textbook’s author or publisher did not ask permission from me if they could use my photo. What should I do?

It depends on where you uploaded it online. If you uploaded it on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you may have inadvertently provided license to the platform to redistribute or sublicense your work for free, effectively making your work part of public domain.


However, if you uploaded it on a licensing platform but did not receive permission from the author or publisher through that platform, then you may write the publisher asking where they got the photo and whether they paid you for its license. Sometimes unscrupulous textbook publishers edit out the watermarks that protect a photo from copyright infringement and then flip or crop the image to fool reverse image searches – this happens a lot more than people think.

The photo I took was printed in a very small corner of a textbook. Does that still constitute copyright infringement, considering the size of the photo is so small?

Yes, it does. Without your photo, that small corner in the book will have no meaning, hence, your photo’s value. Beside, transforming a material does not erase its copyright. As the creator of the photo or material, you are entitled to prevent the transformation of your work.

This means that no one is allowed to crop, edit, enhance, enlarge, or resize your photo unless you give them permission.

I am a graphic artist. I want to use an image I found online for my artwork, but it is copyrighted. How can I go around the copyright so I will not get sued?

Let’s try rephrasing the question: “I am a person. I want to take a phone which I found on the table, but it belongs to someone else. How can I take the phone without getting caught?”

You shouldn’t bypass a copyright in the same way that you shouldn’t take someone else’s property and run away with it. As artists who also need a lot of material for inspiration, we must respect the work of other artists who have invested time, money, and effort in producing their work.

In any case, flipping an image, resizing it, cropping it, desaturating it, or wiping out its watermarks will not make it yours. The easiest way to “get around the copyright” is to ask permission from the creator.

Otherwise, you have to add a significant amount of your own work on top of it to transform and make it so unrecognizable that it becomes something you can rightly call “original”. Simply cropping it and using it as part of a collage will still get you in trouble.

I want to cite someone else’s work, but I am afraid of getting accused of plagiarism. How can I get around this?

If you have to take someone else’s idea and present in on paper, always remember to cite your sources and add on the idea with something of your own. You should also use the APA or MLA styles when citing sources. Here is a useful infographic to know when you are plagiarizing or not.

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About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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