With the holidays around the corner, you may be planning on blogging at least one "round up," or "best of," or "my favorite finds," or "this season’s inspirations," or… you get the point.
What I’m talking about here are the posts that you curate as a creative business owner/blogger full of product, wedding or inspiration photos. Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to label the photos and give credit where credit is due—to the company, the photographer, the stylists, the subjects, and so on. But is it legal?
Practically speaking, copyright law has not (and cannot) adapt fast enough to meet the Pinterest-loving, Uber-riding, homesharing generation that makes up the majority of the world we live in now.
In fact, the last time any major changes were made in the realm of copyright law, pagers were a thing, Titanic was out, your AOL internet relied on a dial-up modem and Britney Spears still wasn’t legally allowed to buy cigarettes. Yeah. That long. The digital millennial copyright act (DMCA) came out in 1998 and since then it’s been pretty quiet.
Courts and creatives rely on this decades-old case law to set the precedent for modern day developments, like Pinterest.. which makes legal minds of the age of 40 explode.
For a generation that fought so hard to make intellectual property rights worth something, those in their late 30s-40s can’t understand why we millennials would be so quick to give away our photos, artwork and products for free.
But we millennials get it. We get that by sharing, we in turn create more worth in this world, in our lives, and in our clients’ lives. We know that ‘free’ is kind of a misnomer—yes, we give out free webinars, do free photo shoots and even take on free internship positions in the hopes of one day being the one who is so successful that we can then dole out those opportunities to the next up-and-comers.
We engage in all kinds of free promotion on behalf of other entrepreneurs, business owners and creatives, in the hopes that being nice and featuring them will come back to help us later.
If you do infringe someone’s copyright by posting a round-up post featuring others’ photos, text or other copyrighted work, it’s likely you’d receive a cease and desist letter asking you to take down their images or give them credit, depending on who sends it.
They could also ask you for money and they would be 100% in the right, legally, for doing so since copyright law in the US is so robust. It would be a rare bird who just outright sues to enforce their copyright, since most people just want to be able to control their work and get paid for it—the cease & desist letter is often more than sufficient for accomplishing this.
So, the moral of the story is that if you create a blog round up post, you’d do yourself a favor to either read the company’s terms and conditions (they will usually mention what you are and aren’t allowed to do with their ‘intellectual property,’ aka their product photos.) or reach out to the artist/writer/photographer directly and get a simple ‘yes’ via email.
To protect yourself from accidentally infringing someone’s copyright in your blog round-up post:
1. Look for their Terms & Conditions policy. Read the site’s terms and conditions (hint: scroll to the bottom of the page) and look for what you can do with their intellectual property (aka “IP”).
2. Ask permission. If you’re unclear, reach out to them and ask. Even big companies have someone there to grant or deny permission quickly.
Learn more about copyright and trademarks here.
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