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I know also that making a PDF of a HTML page or print document, or photocopying pages of a book, does not make that "yours", and is still subject to normal copyright laws as is the original document. Publishers usually prohibit such practices anyway, or allow it with restrictions (e.g. one copy for private use only and republishing prohibited). Basically you are just changing the format, not the content, and could also be displaying content out of context which authors and artists hate!
Given that i would say yes that if you take a screen capture and display it publically, unless it is truly in the public domain at most, you may well be breaking copyright laws and understandings.
Thats a personal opinion, not an informed legal opinion. Then again Alexa and several engines are taking screen captures of my front pages and im not complaibing, Google does it for cache, and in fact any ISP that caches content does it. Its certainly a murky area.
However - the doctrine you want to getout of this is "fair use" not public domain.
This is what allows people to use snippets of other copyrighted material in essays, articles, and whatnot.
If you take a screen shot of google's fron page to write an article about google - you aren't going to have any problems.
If however, you take a screenshot of some poem where you can read all the words - you might have a problem.
MLK Jr's Famous I have a Dream Speech is copyrighted, but you can use parts of it in criticism or other forms of fair use.
There was a case of thumbnails of actual pictures that has already been ruled to be fair use. I am in a rush for time or I would look it up.
Fair use can be interpreted that you are quoting content for the purpose of a review. The principle also is that it cannot be used, or intended to be used, to "replace" the original. You must also cite the source - in the case of the Web a URL in many cases. Its good manners to link as well.
We have a copyright policy on our site that covers this, for example, and allows people to copy 10% of the text on any page up to 10 pages for review purposes as long as their is a link back to the original page(s). But they can email us if they want to do anything else. That is a policy, not a legal statement and not in itself legally enforceable. But was the closest we could get to basing our copyright policy on the fair use provisions Geneva convention etc in east terms.
I remember in Australia when photocopiers started to become used, an agreement with publishers was that you could photocopy up to 10% of a book or one chapter, as long as it was for personal use only.
If you take a screen shot of google's front page to write an article about google - you aren't going to have any problems.
You would assume this to be true but you should take a look at the Google permissions page [google.com]. Everything to do with Google is subject to copyright.
I used some Google screenshots for an article on a site and had to get the shots approved by the Marketing department. A bit of a pain but I know its been approved now and can relax :).
The general rule is that the software package (IE, Word etc.) is the tool being used and not copyrighted. What is displayed in that tool is more than likely copyrighted and should be checked with the site owner or author if in doubt (or if scared about high powered lawyers ;)). The exception to this is if the article was about IE or Word then the company could argue that these screenshots are also copyrighted.
When I have used screen shots of smaller sites the owners have been 100% happy for me to use them and I imagine flattered someone is taking shots of their site. Personally I can't see what all the fuss is about but I like to play by the rules.