Intellectual Property Primer

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3396/3640362081_a27c43de6e_z.jpg

image by flickr user qthomasbower

Me ranting about intellectual property rights is not new in any way but I wrote this in an email to my Extra Sauce coworkers after some confusion about what images they could use when posting to social networks on our clients’ behalf and it seems like a reasonable summary of the subject and unfortunately still timely given the amount of copyright infringement sites like Tumblr and Pinterest engender.


Take-away: unless a photo or other piece of IP is specifically licensed as public domain or Creative Commons licensed, we cannot use it without permission of the original creator. If you cannot track down the license or the original creator then that content is off limits for professional use. With Creative Commons, things get a little tricky. Almost all CC licenses require attribution–that is straight forward enough–you need to include text in the post with the original creator’s name and a link to the original content. Many also require that the CC license be extended, in which case you also must include text and a link to the original CC license. Most importantly, some (or maybe most) CC licensed content specifically prohibits commercial use, in which case it is still off limits for us to use for our commercial clients (you can use it on your personal sites with a clear conscience, however).

Here are some places to find CC content:

We looked at istockphoto.com as a place to find images to buy on the cheap, but their prices have gone up significantly in the last couple years. We tried one other stock photo site advertising free images and the results were, as expected, abysmal.

Yes, a lot less content comes up when you specify CC. But remember if you do find something that is copyrighted that you do want to use, permission to use that content might be a quick email away.

Videos and music are often embedded in a player that either allows or disallows use on other websites. YouTube and Vimeo for example both allow a content owner to prohibit the embedding of their content in other sites, so if it IS allowed, it is implied that you have permission to embed (but not download, redistribute, or re-use) the content. Similar grey-area rules-of-thumb apply when posting a link to Facebook or Twitter where a thumbnail or other linked copy of the image is used along with the link. In those cases Facebook and Twitter have set the precedent of what’s acceptable. In the case of Tumblr and Pinterest, they are really off center when it comes to respecting IP law and so we have to be careful as their TOS’s are carefully worded to pass all the legal responsibility onto you, the user. Remember what’s just questionable (while still illegal) for an individual to post is very dangerous, murky legal water for a company to wade into.


This post reminded me to change my default copyright notice to a Creative Commons license.