Here are answers to the most common questions CCC gets asked regarding copyright in the context of marketing.
Does crediting someone’s content give me permission to use it?
In short, no. Generally, you need to have permission (preferably written) from the person whose content you wish to use, whether that content is in the form of words, still images, video or music. If not, you may be sued for copyright infringement, in which case you would need to be prepared to prove fair use or some other defense.
The safest way to approach the is-it or isn’t-it copyrighted issue is to assume that all content – text, still and video images, music, etc., whether online or in any other medium – is protected by copyright.
Can I use content if I’m not profiting from it?
Again, the answer is no. Whether you are making money or not, using someone else’s content is still likely to be copyright infringement. Not profiting, however, may help your fair use argument (as would proving that you used very little).
How can I tell if content is copyrighted?
The safest way to approach the is-it or isn’t-it copyrighted issue is to assume that all content – text, still and video images, music, etc., whether online or in any other medium – is protected by copyright. If you didn’t create the content, then you will need permission to use it. (Note that, with online content, sometimes the permission is posted right there with the content.)
How does Creative Commons fit into this?
Creative Commons is a system of licenses prepared by lawyers and designed to provide free permission for certain uses of content, and those licenses are available for anyone to use (for free) with their own works. Creative Commons licenses enable copyright owners to give permission for others to use their work without the owners having to hire their own lawyers. However, Creative Commons licenses are still copyright licenses. And sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whether the use you want to make is covered by the Creative Commons license that has been applied to the work – and generally the Creative Commons license, even though free, is not negotiable. You also need to be certain that the content in question actually belongs to the person who applied the Creative Commons license. Finally, if you run into any difficulties, you’re on your own. Creative Commons as an organization stays out of disputes over licenses.
What part does the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) play?
Under the DMCA, online service providers are obliged to remove content posted on their websites that violates copyright according to the owner of the content. If this happens to material you have posted and you disagree, there is a well-defined process you can follow.
What should I do if I receive a cease-and-desist letter?
Cease-and-desist letters are issued to apparently unauthorized users of content (whether online or elsewhere) and usually demand a hefty fee to resolve the copyright claim. If you don’t have a license, you have two options: pay the fee or fight the issue (possibly in court). Either way, the outcome tends to favor companies with lots of (legal) resources.
So what content can I safely use?
Any original content you have actually created yourself is safe to use, as is any content for which you have obtained permission from the owner. Just be absolutely sure the person who gave you permission is him- or herself actually authorized to give you the permission. Most commonly, this will be the creator/author, a publisher or producer, or a professional agent of some kind.
It’s up to you as a marketer to understand and follow the law. Some rules within marketing are there to be broken, others are not.
To get the copyright basics, visit the About Copyright section on CCC’s website.