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Copyright for Marketers: All Your Questions Answered

Copyright for Marketers: All Your Questions Answered, Photo by Allen Murabayashi

As a savvy visual marketer, you’re using photos to engage your audience every day. But are you stopping to make sure you have the rights to use those images?

New research from Libris shows 75% of marketers don’t have a good system for tracking when image licenses and usage rights expire. Over 25% of teams have dealt with a copyright infringement issue in the past five years.

As PhotoShelter Co-Founder and Chairman Allen Murabayashi says, you need to be in the business of mitigating risk.

Watch our new on-demand webinar, Copyright Crash Course: What Marketers Need to Know, to learn about the dangers of using free content, how to navigate copyright in the age of social media, examples of copyright battles between creators and brands, and more.

Plus, check out a new feature from Libris to help you stay on top of your image licenses: Libris License Alerts.


Copyright for Marketers: All Your Questions Answered

Scroll through the Q&A with Allen below to get the answers to our questions from the audience, and be sure to tweet any more questions @getlibris!

And, be sure to check out more of our Libris Visual Storytelling Webinars.

Is it ok if you share a photo but give credit?

No. That’s kind of a myth and it certainly is the ethos on Instagram and a lot of social media sites. The ethos is that, “If I give credit and I tag that person, it’s cool.” You might run into some content holders that are fine with that. But the problem is, that is not the law. So someone who’s not fine with it, if they’re relatively chill and cool, they might say, “Hey, you used my image, please take it down.” I‘ve done that in the past. Or they might say, “You infringed on my copyright, pay me.” Or they might say, “I’m taking you to court.” So again, your mileage may vary. If you’re in the business of mitigating risk, I would not use other people’s content without explicit written permission.

Related Content: 5 Examples of Image Copyright Battles Between Creators and Brands

We have a lot of corporate partners and they will request images that were donated to our nonprofit. Currently we will only give them images that our staff takes. However, we have professional photographers that donate photos, and some partners specifically request those. What are steps to protect our office and say no to that request due to possible issues?

I would definitely not hand out those photos. The license that the photographer extended to you almost certainly does not allow you to distribute them and have another organization use those photos. I’ve seen many private conversations in Facebook groups of photographers who have had their copyright infringed this way. The best thing you can do is say, “this is a copyrighted image, here’s the photographer. If you’d like to use the image, go ahead and contact them.” This mitigates risk and punts it to someone else’s court.

What about GIFs? Specifically GIFs on social media? With Twitter you can automatically add a GIF… what’s your take?

The challenge with GIFs, the animated GIFs in particular – they’ve become this cultural phenomenon. There’s an ethos of sharing these GIFs that might not respect copyright. Complicated by the fact that brands like Converse have made GIFs explicitly for the purpose of them going viral. The gal from Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown, was in a viral GIF campaign because they wanted people circulating these images. It’s impossible to know as the end user whether the image allows you to use those licenses. I would say, the chance of being sued for using a GIF is probably relatively low. But if you’re a brand and it’s part of your marketing campaign, I wouldn’t use it. I’d commission your own GIF.

Related Content: Expensive Copyright Mistakes That Brands Make on Social Media

I work in the creative department of our business, and we purchase images from several different sites. What recommendations do you have for putting a process in place to make sure we’re compliant with our thousands of images from dozens of sites?

Let’s assume that you have some sort of centralized storage, like a DAM, or like a Libris. I would be inclined to create a folder from each image source like Shutterstock and then I would split it up into Royalty Free and Rights Managed. Because then again, the nature of those licenses are very different. Shutterstock will have sort of a boiler plate royalty free license that’s sort of applied to all of the images that will fall into that category. And then you’re going to have nuance dealing with the rights managed images, and I think that’s the best way to sort of scale it out is to know – from this vendor, in this category, this is the license that we have to uphold, and this is the license for the other vendor.

I work for a university and we have an iStock Signature 50 Teamshare account. Am I able to download iStock photos and re-upload it to our Libris account for the rest of my division (a staff of 100+ people) to use for work purposes?

I’m hesitant to answer this question because I’d have to look specifically at the license. My gut reaction would be that it is ok to upload those images into Libris and allow sharing through your organization, because I’m not aware of royalty free licences that restrict it to a specific division within an organization. As long as the organization’s name is the license, I think you’ll be ok. But you have to look at the specific license to know that for sure.

Related Content: How Brands Can Reduce the Risk of Violating Image Copyright Agreements

We have an in-house photographer who watermarks photos with his name so we it crop from our photos. Should we keep those on the images when we use them in marketing materials, or should it actually say the copyright of the business, since the photographer is an employee of the same business?

Typically when a photographer is an employee, they are considered a “work for hire” employee. That’s the normal arrangement in the US in the past 30 years. In that case, the company owns the copyright, but you’d have to look specifically at his employment contract to understand whether he actually owns the copyright. If he owns the copyright for the images and he extends the license to you to use them, you want to look at the language for that license. It might say, “this company may use this image, for any way it sees fit, as long as I am an employee here.” I’m making up licensing language there. If he owns the copyright, then I would assume that his contract also specifies what credit needs to be given for those images. One thing that I’ve seen in the past is that people will credit the photographer when they can. Sometimes the design of the page, or a webpage, sort of precludes putting the ownership. In parts of Europe it’s required. It’s part of their moral law that you have to credit the photographer. Visual watermarks on images that you are using for marketing purposes look really unprofessional from my viewpoint, so I’d rather just see a visual credit line. But I would look at that photographer’s employment contract to understand the ownership of those images.

I’m a photographer. How do I do bulk registrations of multiple images at the same time?

So the easiest way to do it is, the US Copyright Office allows electronic registration. And the laws have changed a little bit, so it used to be that you could essentially register an unlimited number of images that were taken within a calendar year or so for about $55. They have since changed the law in February so that you can only register 750 images at a time. Those either have to be in what are called the published images category or the unpublished images category. And they’re talking about that fee going up to around $100. Most photographers that I talk to are either registering their images after a big shoot, before any of the images are used publically. Or, they’re saying on a quarterly basis, I will go through and create my published bin and my unpublished bin and I’ll register them. The main thing I would say, is to get on a regular schedule for registering your copyrights. And it is the case now where several photographers I know are making a regular part of their annual income through copyright infringement. And again it’s not the crux of their business model, but it is a case of they have images that people want to use and those people aren’t licensing them properly. But you’re not going to be able to gain those statutory damages unless you register those images.

Can you talk about how this affect non-profits? Except in cases where we sell merchandise, how does this affect us?

This is a great question, so we decided to break it down in its own post! Check it out: Nonprofits, Copyright, and Photography: 4 Myths Worth Re-evaluating.

Next Up: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words – and Maybe a Million-Dollar Lawsuit

Cover photo by Allen Murabayashi.

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