Happy New Year! No matter what holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope you had a really good time and got some much needed rest. Although yesterday was a government holiday, it was also Copyright Law Day. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to make sure that what we are doing in our businesses is fair, square and legal.
This point really hit home for me when a friend uploaded a cute video of him playing with his daughter. It was so cute it went viral. When I checked his page as I was writing this blog, it had over 16 million views. That a lot of eyes watching you play with your child.
Imagine how you would have reacted if that had been your post that went viral. At first, you get excited when you see more and more people sharing your video. Then you get super excited when the first “celebrity” shares it. But you hit the pause button on your enthusiasm when you realize people are using your video content without giving you credit or any corresponding revenue.
And that’s where Copyright Law comes in.
As a Content Creator, you should take steps to make sure you protect your intellectual property. If what you are sharing with the world came out of the deep recesses of your mind, you should position it so that people know that it came from you and not Joe Bubblegum.
If you are a person who regularly shares content that you find on-line, then you must make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office can help you understand if a post you found on social media or if that picture you downloaded from Google falls under the Fair Use Doctrine. Otherwise you could be unintentionally creating a problem for yourself.
There are basically 4 things to consider when using copyright -protected work:
- Purpose and character of the use.
If you are challenged, a court will look at whether or not: you made money from using the work, was it used for nonprofit educational purposes or did you add something that transformed the original use of the work.
Remember Weird Al Yankovich? He was able to turn Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” into “Eat It” because the song was a parody. I’m sure Michael wasn’t too happy but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
- Nature of the copyrighted work.
Using creative and/or imaginative work like songs, movies or novels usually won’t lend themselves to a claim of fair use. And you probably shouldn’t even try to use something that someone else created but hasn’t published yet. To do that might bring in to question your ethics and you certainly don’t want to damage your brand.
I will never forget being disappointed to learn that Alex Haley had to settle a lawsuit out of court brought by Harold Courlander. He claimed that Haley had copied 81 pages of his book “The African”.
- Amount used as it relates to the work as a whole.
If you use a good portion of something with a copyright, you will probably run into trouble. I mean, you can’t lift an entire chapter out of someone’s book, repackage it and claim it as yours. And sometimes, using only a small part of copyrighted material can cause you problems.
Remember the Robin Thicke & Pharell lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by the estate of Marvin Gaye over their song “Blurred Lines”. The Gaye family successfully claimed “Blurred Lines” was strikingly similar to Gaye’s song “Got To Give It Up”.
- The effect of the use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.
Whew! That’s a mouthful. What that basically means is by using the work, will it hurt the market for the original work. Yep, I’m talking about bootlegging or creatively “borrowing” someone else’s work.
I have a friend who is an artist who is losing money because of all the unauthorized copies of his prints that are sold. Imagine if you painted a picture and then someone else took a picture of it, printed it and sold it for less than you could because they can mass produce it? I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be very happy at all.
Now let’s be clear, I am not dispensing legal advice.
If you want to be sure that you are not setting yourself up to get a “Cease and Desist” letter, you should consult with an attorney. I just wanted to give you something to think about the next time you are tempted to: crop someone’s logo off a picture so you can share it, sell bootleg copies of movies and music out of the trunk of your car or post a quote without giving props to the author.
When in doubt, reach out to the person who created the work and ask permission. They can give you clear guidelines on the requirements to use their work. In a lot of cases, they just want you to give them credit.
Eventually, I will write a blog about why I think my friend’s video with his daughter went viral. But first I have to contact his “people” to get permission. It would be kinda bad to get a “Cease & Desist” letter from a friend.
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