Copyright laws were created to legally protect any original work from being stolen or used without proper permission. But since the dawn of the Internet, it’s become difficult to keep track of what’s allowed and what’s not.
For instance, it’s a common mistake for businesses to take photos from Google Images and assume they’re fair to use. Just because an image doesn’t have a watermark or copyright symbol, doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. Businesses should only seek out certified stock photo sites or find media that allows them to purchase rights from the copyright owner directly.
Google and Bing filter photos by license, so you can easily find an image that’s registered under a creative commons license. Don’t assume that providing attribution with an image or other forms of media frees you of copyright infringement. You still need full permission from the copyright holder before you can use their content.
Even Internet memes aren’t always safe to post. Just because other people are sharing something, that doesn’t mean it’s legal. According to the NY Times, the Harlem Shake viral video — where people posted videos of themselves dancing to a song by recording artist Baauer — faced serious copyright issues when a suit was filed claiming Baauer used samples of another artist’s copyrighted songs without permission. Many businesses, colleges, and companies posted their own Harlem Shake videos, only to have them taken down by social media platforms due to copyright infringement. It’s always best to check licensing before using any material.
Another copyright issue involves plagiarism, which is the act of stealing written content or ideas and claiming them as your own. In 2009, the Associated Press (AP) accused All Headline News (AHN) of stealing their articles, sued them for an undisclosed amount of money, and won. No matter what industry you’re in, you cannot take written content from elsewhere and declare it as an original work of your own.
The same idea can be applied to websites and URLs. Note: just because someone else has the same business name as you do, doesn’t mean that you have the right to use content from their site. Sometimes, even if you haven’t copied a piece of content directly, and you’ve reworded an idea, you can be accused of infringement.
If you take something from someone else in social media, don’t think that’s okay because social media is typically meant to be shared. Some businesses will have already gotten their work registered with the US Copyright Office before posting it, meaning they own the content and must approve how its used.
If your business commits intellectual property theft, whether it’s inadvertent or not, the accuser could decide to take action. The best case scenario is that you’ll receive a cease and desist letter. Otherwise, you could end up receiving a claim for financial damages.
Even though the Internet is vast, don’t think that there aren’t organizations keeping an eye on copyright. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was created to instantly remove any stolen media content infringing on copyright. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter now provide their own information on copyright laws and describe how to obey them and how to report any suspicious activity. Keep in mind that it’s not just special organizations and law experts policing copyright. Ripoff Report is a site where average consumers can report any business injustice they see online and post it for the public to find.
With all of the information on copyright law out there on the Internet, businesses are running out of excuses to make mistakes. But it is a lot to sift through, and unless you’re a professional web marketing or design business, chances are, you haven’t had the time to becomewell-versed in the specifics of the law. Sometimes the best course of action when dealing with copyright issues is to work with a web marketing professional who can guide you in the right direction.