Is Your Marketing Department Breaking Copyright Laws?

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January 3, 2013

Whether you need an image for your website, a song for your corporate video, or poem for your blog, chances are you’re going to end up wanting to use someone else’s work as part of your final piece. With the abundance of easily accessible content, the average person can violate the copyright laws 10 times before their second cup of coffee.

As a business leader and marketer, take some time this week to revisit your internal policies for content usage and source citing.  Make sure your team understands they can’t just copy a photo off of someone else’s web page or pull a music track from that great Justin Bieber CD.  As a business leader just because you don’t know, doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible.

Here are a few pointers to share with your team.

What’s the Law?

A copyright is a form of protection backed by the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. Basically if you haven’t shot it, taped it, recorded it, drawn it, written it yourself-it’s not yours to use without expressed permission of the owner. Read the US. Copyright Office’s FAQs as a refresher here.

Common Copyright Infringements by Marketers

Make no assumptions, because ignorance of the complexities of copyright violations won’t save you in court.  Here are the most common faux pas:

  • Celebrity pictures can be used in a company’s e-mail marketing, blog or website because they’re part of public domain.
    • Celebrities (and the photographers that take the photos) protect their images just as closely as brand owners of physical merchandise. Permission is required.
  • Images or videos that are in Creative Commons are fair game.
    • Not exactly. There are still requirements such as crediting the photographer or artist and/or providing a link back.
  • Buying royalty-free licenses protects me from any copyright infringements.
    • Tread carefully. Royalty free is a cloudy term.  Be sure to carefully review the licensing agreement from the provider.  Many sources limit the size for reproduction, breadth of distribution or medium utilized.
  • Under Fair Use, I can reprint content as long as I clearly credit the original author.
    • Wrong again. Reprinting and reposting is allowable under the Fair Use Doctrine only with “limited portions” of a copyrighted item or commentary. You must give credit and cite where it came from. However there is no word count that dictates what a limited portion might be.  Copying a favorite article from a magazine and citing the magazine source is a violation of copyright law.  Magazines charge a premium for reprint rights – even IF you wrote the article for them.

Copyright laws are complex and the Internet age of easy access adds to that complexity. When in doubt (1) get written permission from the owner (2) check with an attorney who specializes in copyright laws and/or advertising/marketing/entertainment law (3) check with someone at the U.S Copyright Office or its website.

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