Copyrights, Fair Use and Social Media

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This Fall, the Copyright Alliance will be sending a letter to President Obama urging him to protect the copyright works of artists across the country.  The letter doesn't outline any specifics so I'm not exactly sure what it will accomplish, but if you'd like to sign the petition, you can do so here.

The Alliance's site also has a plain-English explanation of the Fair Use provision in section 107 of the Copyright Act.  There are some grey areas not explored there, such as blogs who make ad revenue off the traffic their content generates.  These blogs are for-profit entities, yet use photos that are not paid for and are not submitted to them by the copyright holders (the photographers). Can this still be argued to be non-commercial use when without those photos the traffic and therefore ad revenue would drop? This is a growing issue in the blogging industry as a whole (not just wedding and design blogs), and I have a feeling it will be one that is decided by the courts sooner rather than later.  Blogs that host original content (created by themselves or licensed or paid for) are the ones that will last for the long haul. 

If you'd like to avoid that stickiness altogether, I recommend obtaining permission from the photographers prior to using a photo or using the photos available through a Creative Commons license search on Flickr.  Crediting the photographer with a link does not give you rights to use the photo. According to the Fair Use act, "acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Another question that I often get asked by wedding planners and event designers goes along the lines of "don't I get partial copyright of the photo because without my design of the tablescape/reception/display, the photographer would not have been able to create that image?".  The answer is no, the full copyright of the photo belongs to the photographer.  The work that goes into creating wedding photos is always a collaboration, and it would behoove everyone's egos if we kept that in mind, but by law the photo copyright still belongs to the photographer.

On another copyright note, it is also illegal to use unlicensed music on your website.  Purchasing a song off of iTunes is NOT the same as purchasing the license to use it on a website.  Ellen Degeneres is facing a major lawsuit about this as well right now, and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this case. In the meantime, TripleScoop Music is a good site for obtaining licensed, royalty-free music for your company's website at affordable rates (to compare, licenses with ASCAP or BMI are upwards of $900 per year). 

Copyright exists the moment you create something, but cannot be pursued in court until it is registered with the government.  If your work is being plagiarized, however, there are steps you can take outlined here and here.

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