What is Copyright and Copyright Infringement?

5 Myths Busted on What You Can & Can’t Use for Your Business

Understanding copyright is essential in business. Copyright infringement is a very common mistake in business. How do I know? Because people regularly use images for their business with watermarks – BIG tell it is copyrighted.

I'm not a legal eagle nor copyright expert, but I am a responsible business owner and don't want to risk my business over something as avoidable as copyright infringement so I have researched the area at length to understand the do's and don't in copyright and how to protect my own content.

Having great images will catch your users' eye before anything else but you need to be careful where you get them. For commercial use, you cannot just do a Google search to find a pic for your next blog or to put on social media to advertise your business. Catches are, by doing this, you will infringe on someone’s copyright.

Understand Copyright & Copyright Infringement

So, what is copyright? Copyright applies to the owner of creative work such as photos, images, graphics, sound, music, video …… you get my drift. If you created it, it is your property, you own it and copyright protects that.

Copyright is automatic in most countries, but the understanding is ignored. Copyright means others don’t have the right to use the content without permission. Owners can add watermarks to their work in to order to try to stop others using it without permission, but the lack of understanding means people will just share anyway, because that is what everyone does on social media, right? True, but this doesn’t mean it is right! Creative work is the property of the owner until they decide otherwise. Using it without permission let’s face it, is stealing. It is no different than if you took a physical item from someone for your own use without asking.

There is a very, VERY simple rule of thumb if it isn’t yours and you don’t have permission to use it, then don’t!

1.   You can just use any images you find on Google

No you can't! The idea of sharing and use what is in front of you is a common misconception in social media. Most of the time, people use images, music and videos from others without thinking, or without having permission to use it. You probably will get away with it on a personal level, but it is very unprofessional in business.

I will tell you a quick story of what happened to me. Someone added me after a salsa event and then decided to take one of personal photos of my pug, Mise without asking and use it on their promotional poster for their event without asking. Oooooh, I felt mixed emotions about this and they definitely weren’t positive emotions. I'm not a professional photographer but it was still MY photo and MY dog! I very quickly removed this person from my personal Facebook profile and never attended the event, nor any they have promoted since.

Search Google

So now you are thinking, OK where do I get images to use, as I need something for my website/blog/social media. There are tons of resources for finding that is available for use where the owner places it under what is called, Creative Commons Licencing or image that are in the Public Domain. Full copyright means the owner has full rights to the content but some people want others to share their content and that is where Creative Commons comes in to give the creator/owner options on whether their work can be used for personal use, commercial use, requires credit or can be modified without permission. This gives more flexible control to creators. Copyright isn’t indefinite but it does last 50-70yrs here in Ireland and roughly the same elsewhere, basically a pretty long time. After that, the works become Public Domain and as the name suggests, available to the public. Examples would be classically composed music from the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. When sourcing your images, music and video, always use a source that lists copyright free work under Creative Commons CC0 or adheres to any restrictions laid out by the Creative Commons licencing. You can also buy royalty free work to use too.

2.   Royalty free means free/no cost

This is another misconception, Royalties usually are paid per use of a property/work, royalty free simply means a one-off payment to the owner. Sometimes there is no cost, but in general, there is some cost involved. Let’s face it, if you did work, you would want to get paid or if you owned something, you would want someone to ask you permission to use it. Common sense really.

The term stock photo is often listed with Royalty free, and basically just means non-personal photos available for commercial use, but they can have different levels of licencing for use so please do your homework.

3.   You can use your favourite music in the background or on videos.

Record labels can be very strict on the use of music because music carries royalties, i.e. the record label gets paid every time the music is used and a percentage goes to the artist. Facebook has been known to close accounts using music from big artists in the background so it is something to consider.  Youtube will also claim copyright on music automatically.

Smaller bands and other artists can love when people use their music to help get it ‘out there’ but always respect that and support the artists in buying it officially too. If I use something from one of my favourite bands, example The Coronas, even if it is a video I filmed it at one of their gigs, I will link to their music and give them a shout out using Youtube cards, tags, links to iTunes etc.

Another thing I have learned from band members, not to publish new songs online before the music has been officially released and something to consider. This is their livelihood after all and we should respect it. Music is always copyright at the end of the day unless if it is listed on a website with Creative Commons licencing. It makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it, but the nature of sharing online for personal use is different when you are doing it for your business. We need to respect other businesses.


4.   How will they ever never know I am using the images?

Because big companies are losing out on this, likes of Getty images are tracking misuse of their images and suing people! Yep, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands. They use tools that will run a reverse image search online and can identify where their images are being used and link it back to the accounts who have licenced them. This can also be used to protect your own images and photos.

Slightly aside but worth noting:

Plagiarism will also damage your business which means taking someone’s else’s written content and using without any reference. You can use quotes from others with reference but not take their content. Google penalises heavily for this on websites and referred to it as scraping content. While Google does like referenced content (shows credibility), you need to mention and link to your sources too.

You can find out more and some tools to use in the eNotes on The Businessi Sensei Notes: Understanding Copyright.

5.   You need to be a graphic artist to create cool images

No, you don’t have to be a talented graphic designer to create everyday graphics for your business. There are loads of tools out there to help you create some great graphics. Certainly, for more complex graphics you may want to consider a graphics designer but you can create great graphics yourself too. There are lots of easy to use online tools to help you design images you can use for your business. Get a graphic designer for the likes of branding images but you can create everyday business images yourself.

For more information on copyright with 45 free or low-cost resources to create stunning visuals and sounds for your business, check out the Businessi Sensei Notes on Understanding Copyright.

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