Here’s a quick pop quiz about the information you post to your website. Have you ever …
- Copied an image that you found online and posted it on your company website?
- Copied a gif or meme of a famous person or movie and used it in a promotional email for your business?
- Copied an article you found in your news channel and posted it to your company’s website?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, you are probably guilty of copyright infringement. If you haven’t gotten caught, you may think it doesn’t matter. Think again. Law firms are actively searching for business websites that contain copyright violations and they are developing new ways of finding violators. We are now aware of three insurance organizations that have been contacted for unauthorized image use.
Businesses are targets. If you can’t prove that you have a license for the image you are using, you may be forced to cough up a big fee. Worse yet, you could be dragged into a lawsuit.
Copyright Law and Online Content
The fact that an image or other content can be found online doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. In other words, you don’t automatically have the rights to use images, articles, videos, memes, infographics and other content. If you post something without securing the proper rights to it, you could be accused of – or even sued for – copyright infringement.
This is a legal matter as well as an ethical one. Under United States copyright law, music, texts, images and other works are protected. The creator does not have to register the copyright for the law to apply.
In some cases, certain uses of a copyrighted work may be permissible under fair use doctrine. This allows people to use copyrighted content in limited ways for things like teaching, criticism and reporting. However, determining whether something falls under fair use can get complicated. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission.”
Sharing vs. Stealing
Perhaps some of the confusion comes from our culture of social media. We’ve grown accustomed to sharing content, and many people want their material to be shared. Nevertheless, there are limits.
Reposting content on social media is generally permissible. If someone shares content that they have the rights to on a social media site, the terms and conditions of the site will likely give other users the right to share using “retweet,” “repost,” or “share” features. Also, if you share a link to a website on social media, the website may be set up to include an image with the link.
But be careful. You still don’t have the right to copy the image and post it to your own website or printed communications. Remember that many artists rely on their work for their income. They can’t afford to let people use their photos and graphics without compensation.
How to Use Content Safely
As a business, your best bet is to stick to content you have full rights to use. There are multiple ways to do this.
- Create your own content. As the creator, you hold the copyright. Original content is the gold standard. It represents your brand well and will help you stand out in the search engines.
- Hire a firm like Inbound Insurance Marketing to create ORIGINAL content. Be sure your contract outlines exactly how the content can be used and who owns the copyright. If you hire a content creator, be sure that the content is created from scratch, specifically for you, and that it won’t be sold to any other clients.
- Republish other’s content with permission only. Most publications have content usage guidelines. Some allow you to share their articles if you include their name as the source with a link to their website. If you follow theses guidelines, you can use their content, but don’t copy the photo in the article from their website into your website. They have licensed the image for their own use. If you want to use the image, you have to license it for your own use.
- License stock images. This can be a very cost-effective way to get lots of high-quality photos.