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Copyright is not an easy thing to summarise in a general way - whether you're allowed to copy and paste things without getting in the poop depends on the licence that you have to the content, which will be different for every little bit of content that's out there. Which copyright law applies is also an issue - the law is different across different jurisdictions and whilst there are some broad similarities and general principles that apply across the board thanks to international conventions on copyright, you will find that the law treats copyright differently for works authored in different places. It really is a quagmire of hair-splitting bullshit.


For starters, for copyright to even attach to written text (known as a 'literary work' in copyright law), there is a requirement of originality and substantiality. Originality can be summed up as the need for a work to be an author's own work. You can't cut and paste somebody else's work and then claim copyright over it - you need to have used your own efforts to create the work to claim copyright over it. For your purposes, this means that if the quotes you plan on using are already someone else's work, then the person whose Pinterest posts you're referring to could not sue you for copying them. However, the originator of the quotes (i.e. the original author) could still sue you if the quotes attract someone else's copyright.


Substantiality can be summed up as the need for a work to have had enough effort put into it to justify extending copyright protection to the work. The main problem with this concept is that it is very fluid and varies significantly depending on the work and its context. If a short, one-sentence jingle is so catchy, awesome and original so as to make it commercially valuable, then even that could be protected by copyright. Likewise, even though the phone book consists of other people's information (rather than something that the author made up on their own), the phone book is still covered by copyright law in Australia because a lot of time and effort was spent on compiling, ordering and presenting the information in a user-friendly way. However, a one-sentence jingle that is pretty generic and does not display much artistic flair or originality might not be considered substantial enough to be covered by copyright. It is really a question of impact and impression that is nearly impossible to answer in the abstract - in this area of the law, a court would need to be directed to analogous cases that have been decided about similar works and types of works in order to reach a sensible decision.


If you go through the above process and decide that a work attracts copyright protection, then you need to decide who owns the copyright and what licence they have given you to use it. The owner of the copyright is originally the author of the work, unless the work was produced in an employment context (i.e. when an employee writes a document in the course of their employment - in that case the employer not the employee owns the copyright) or unless there was a contract vesting the copyright in someone else, or some other exception applies. Copyright - like any other species of property right - is also transferrable and can be sold or given away by an author after the creation of the work. This includes, say, cases where a copyrighted work is posted on an Internet service like Pinterest. I haven't read Pinterest's terms of use (and can't be fucked doing so), but there are many websites that specifically state that by posting something on the site, you transfer your rights to the owner of the website. This could mean that by posting their shit online, somebody will have given away their right to claim copyright over it.


In terms of licensing, a licence can be express (i.e. a written set of terms and conditions that you are required to agree to before you're granted the licence) but it can also be implied. I'm not going to go into how this works because it is too complicated for me to do it justice in a post like this. But basically you have whatever rights you're given by the owner of the copyright - you are not allowed to do anything other than what is authorised by the licence. This means that if your licence does not allow you to reproduce the work, then you're not allowed to reproduce it without exposing yourself to the risk of being sued.


Another thing that's important is the concept of moral rights - these attach to works that attract copyright but are not able to be sold or given away - they will always belong to the author of the work, who has to be a natural person. The moral rights that exist in Australia are the right to attribution of authorship, the right to not have authorship falsely attributed and the right to have the integrity of a work preserved (i.e. the right not to have a work subjected to derogatory treatment that could be prejudicial to the author's honour or reputation). Whilst an author can consent to waive their moral rights, if they haven't expressly done so, then they will have these rights so long as copyright subsists in the work over which they're claiming them (i.e. for their lifetime plus 70 years). From a practical perspective, this means that if you're quoting or paraphrasing somebody else's work, you need to attribute the quote or paraphrase to the author and make sure that this attribution is correct. You also need to make sure that you don't quote or paraphrase the work in a way that distorts the author's intention or is prejudicial to their honour or reputation. The example I'd give is that you can't paraphrase something written by Martin Luther King in a paper arguing for white power and racial segregation in a way that suggests that MLK's views support these goals.


As always in the law, there are exceptions to the above, such as the concept of 'fair dealing' (which is more limited than the US concept of 'fair use') and I'm not going to go into these.


Whilst I don't expect the above to answer your question, hopefully it gives you some idea of the things to watch out for when quoting stuff and the sources you'd need to look at when deciding whether you can do so without getting into the shit.

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