If you’re any sort of marketer, you most likely understand the series of hoops that is copyright infringement.
As it continues to crop up in the news these days, copyright infringement is a hot topic that affects many individuals and businesses who often don’t know any better—people who simply want to market themselves, and may not know the in’s and out’s of what can and cannot be used.
So when it comes to marketing, what content is okay to use? What can happen if you’re caught using a law-protected image, writing, or video for your own marketing efforts? There’s plenty of content that, as a marketer, you are allowed to use—but it’s important to know where to find it.
Here are some common questions that marketers have when it comes to copyright infringement, and what that means for them.
What exactly is “copyright infringement”?
Copyright infringement is when the unauthorized use of copyrighted content (such as photos, graphics, illustrations, videos, other images, and/or writing) occurs. This happens often, like when images are grabbed off of Google and used on a website without permission—or when videos are “ripped” from YouTube and posted elsewhere. In cases such as these, the copyright holder of the content can sue the person or group who used the content without permission.
I just Google Image searched for an image I want to use, and found the perfect one. Can I use it on my website or in my marketing if I credit the source?
Nope. Not unless they’ve given you written permission to do so, or unless you’ve purchased the content. Even if you don’t make money on your website, even using a “snippet” of someone else’s images, videos, or writing is a no-no.
If you truly want to use the content, it may be worth a shot to contact the source to see if you can get permission to use it. Most times, the source will want compensation, but sometimes not.
I used content from a website that said it was okay, but then discovered that the website had stolen it from somewhere else.
In this case, you might be able to shift the liability to that shady website, but these cases can be tricky. You may need to be involved with the case if the copyright owner decides to sue.
What is safe to use when it comes to using photos, art, videos, and writing for my own marketing that comes from other sources?
It’s a great idea to make your own content. Take your own photos, create your own graphics, shoot your own videos, or write your own copy. If you aren’t good at these things, hire people who can.
Another option is to subscribe to a source such as Shutterstock, which offers a wide variety of royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, and other types of images. You can also find images to use by doing a Google search for images “labeled for re-use”.
It’s perhaps the best idea of all to work with a professional digital marketing company. Most of them are an excellent resource, since they already keep copyright infringement in mind while posting and generating marketing content. An expert digital marketing company will know exactly what content can be used, what needs to be created organically, and what is to be completely avoided.
What cannot be copyrighted?
Ideas, including procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, discoveries, plans, methods, and devices.
Facts, such as data and news.
Laws, including court decisions, statutes, cases, regulations, and constitutions.
Short phrases and titles, including names, titles, slogans, familiar symbols, or designs.
Works made by the federal government, including reports, memos, documents, rules, and agency publications.
Information that already exists in the public domain, including calendars, height/weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and schedules of sporting events.
Well…I didn’t know all of this, and now I do. But I already got called out for using someone else’s content. Do I need to pay them?
Perhaps. Unless you can prove that you bought the content (which you may not have), you’ll most likely have to pay up. That is, unless you want to hire a lawyer—which would probably be even more expensive than the infringement fee.
And what if I find out that someone else is using my content without my permission?
The first thing to do is to register your content with the U.S. Copyright Office. Anything that you’ve worked hard on that you don’t want to be “ripped” should be registered with them. This can include things such as videos you may have shot, photos you took, graphics you created, or papers you wrote. With blogging being so popular these days, it may even be worth it to you to register your blog posts as a compilation. Once you’ve registered your content, if you discover someone stealing it, you are allowed to sue them if you want. The first thing to do is to contact the individual or group that is stealing your content, and request that they stop using it. (In most cases, that person or group probably doesn’t even realize that they are doing anything illegal, and will immediately stop.) If they don’t stop, a Cease & Desist letter should be issued to that person or group. This letter will explain that they are liable to be sued if they continue stealing your content.
The goal is that you won’t have to deal with copyright infringement frustrations—whether it’s on the side of someone stealing from you or the other way around. This basic information will give you a beginner’s insight to the situation, and will hopefully keep you on the safe side.
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