Working with People who Don’t Understand Copyright

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s the scenario: You are a newly hired third party content creator for a company. You learn that your client has a habit of copying pictures from Pinterest or Google Images searches without verifying that they are allowed to use the images on their website and/or social media posts. They want you to do the same. What should you do?

Option #1: Your Client Needs an Education about Copyright
Some people truly believe they can use any image they find on the internet, particularly if they give an attribution and a link back to the original. There are so-called “gurus” who will tell you this is ok. It’s not.

What your client is likely doing is committing copyright infringement. Inform your client that he/she is running the risk of getting a cease and desist letter, a bill with a license, or a lawsuit. In the worst-case scenario, they could face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image they use, plus attorneys’ fees. Tell your client to thank their lucky stars they haven’t faced one of these consequences yet and advise them that the prudent thing to do would be to replace all images on their site with pictures they can legally use.

Use this an a teaching experience to educate your client about the importance of asking permission, using Creative Commons, and possibly exploring whether what they are doing in some situations qualifies as fair use.

Option #2: Your Client Understands but Disregards Others’ Copyright Rights
Fire your client.

This person is obviously an idiot. No money is worth being affiliated with this company. Run away as fast as you can.

Footnote: Every company should have a “No Jerks” rule when it comes to employees and clients. If you find someone violating this rule at a genetic level (not just having a bad day), cut all ties with them immediately.

The same rules about copyright that apply to your website also apply to your social media posts:

Whenever I work on a contract for the relationship between a company and an outside content provider, I always recommend that my client require an indemnity clause that will protect them if they are accused of intellectual property infringement based on material provided by the other party. Your contract is the master document for your working relationship. It should clearly define the parties’ obligations to each other which should include deadlines and deliverables and also how you will resolve problems when they occur.

If you want to know more about the complex issues related to copyright and the internet, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about this topic, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Pictures on your Phone – Who Owns the Copyright?

No Pants 2015 Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

No Pants 2015 – Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

Here’s the scenario: You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. You ask your server to take a picture of your group with your phone. Your server obliges. The image is on your device; but who owns the copyright – you, the server, or the restaurant?

To get a copyright, you need an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. Taking a photograph of a group of people constitutes an original work fixed in a tangible medium, even when it’s just a digital file on your phone. The copyright holder has the exclusive right to control where their work is copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and what derivative works can be made from it. This person has these rights the moment a work is created – they don’t have to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office to obtain these rights.

Given this information, who owns the copyright in this situation?

Is it You?
You orchestrated the photo and it’s on your phone. You may be the only one who can physically copy, distribute, and use the photo – at least in regards to the first time it appears away from your device. I can’t say for certain that the law would say you’re the copyright holder since you didn’t physically push the button to create the photo, it’s unlikely that anyone would challenge you for copyright rights.

Is it the Server?
If it wasn’t for the server, this photo as it is wouldn’t exist. From that perspective, the server could argue that he/she owns the copyright since he/she pushed the button that created the image.

Is it the Restaurant?
If your job involves creating intellectual property, your employer is the author and owner of all the intellectual property you create while performing your job tasks. However, a server’s job isn’t to create intellectual property; their job is serving food and providing customer service. The restaurant probably doesn’t have any claim to the copyright in the image.

A restaurant may have policy on their social media profiles or posted in the restaurant that says you grant them a license to use any content you post about them. If you post the image online, they may be able to use the image without asking for additional permission, but they still don’t own the copyright.

So who’s the copyright holder – the server or the person who owns the camera? I’m not sure. I’d have to evaluate the specific facts of the situation. But here’s my question: does it matter? What is the likelihood that there are going to be problems related to this image? Will the server ever see or care if you post the photo? Probably not. And even if they do, I suspect he/she won’t care.

Copyright is a complicated issue, especially when it involves the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Richard Prince’s “New Portraits” – Art or Infringement?

Photo courtesy of Gagosian via Gothamist

Photo courtesy of Gagosian via Gothamist

A few people sent me links to articles about Richard Prince’s art show called “New Portraits” at Gagosian gallery. He took screen shots of other people’s Instagram photos, added one comment, and is selling them for $100,000 each. From what I’ve read, he never asked any of the Instagram users for permission to use their images and they aren’t getting any of the profits from the sales.

Apparently Prince has done things like this before – taking others’ work, altering it, and selling it. According to reports, he’s been challenged in court and won in previous situations. (Fair use is a portion of the copyright law that allows others to build on other’s work in original ways, like adding commentary, creating a parody, or making new artistic statements.) Prince’s history of being victorious in the courtroom might make these Instagram users hesitate to bring a lawsuit against him now, but I’m not convinced they would lose.

There is no cut-and-dry, black-and-white mathematical equation that will definitively show whether what a person did constitutes fair use or copyright infringement. That is up to a court to decide based on the merits of the case. The court can consider any evidence it wants in these situations, but there are four main fair use factors. I created an acronym of the fair use factors when I spoke at Phoenix Comicon last year on fan art and copyright. The acronym for the fair use factors is PAIN:

P = Purpose and character of your use

A = Amount of the original used

I = Impact on the market

N = Nature of the work you copied

Here’s my take on how the fair use factors apply to this situation:

  • P (Purpose): Prince used others’ work for a commercial purpose (to make money) and didn’t transform the originals except to add a single comment to each one and create a collection. (Does not favor Fair Use)
  • A (Amount): Prince took screen shots of each user’s Instagram profile and used an entire photo. (Does not favor Fair Use)
  • I (Impact on the market): As far as I know, Prince is the only person currently selling these images, but the fact that he’s selling them could impact the original artists’ ability to sell their work. The fact that Prince is selling these prints doesn’t change whether these images are available to view the original images online. (Weak argument for finding Fair Use at best)
  • N (Nature of copied work): Prince took images from a social media platform and created “art.” There might be an argument that the audience that would seek these images out online is different than an audience who would be interested in Prince’s work. (Weak argument for finding Fair Use.)

Do I think this is fair use? No, but I’m not the judge in this situation. We won’t know for certain until and unless the Instagram users’ whose photos were used in Prince’s work bring lawsuits against him for copyright infringement. I suspect many or all of these photos are “selfies” so these individuals may have a claim against him for commercializing their images without consent as well as a copyright infringement case.

Remember, fair use is a defense, not a permission slip. If these users sue for copyright infringement, Richard Prince would have the burden of showing that what he did was sufficient to qualify for fair use.

Fair use cases are usually complicated. If you want to chat more about fair use and copyright, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

More articles about this situation:
Artist Steals Instagram Photos & Sells Them For $100K At NYC Gallery
Richard Prince Sucks

If Someone Sends you a Photo of Themselves, Do you Own It?

Parade Selfie by Paul Sableman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Parade Selfie by Paul Sableman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Frequently I hear questions like, “If someone emails or texts me a photo of themselves, does it become my property?” Many people in this situation want to know if they own the photo and what they are allowed to do with it.

The answer to “Do I own the photo?” is “Yes” and “No.” Yes, you do own a copy of the photograph by virtue of the fact that someone gave it to you. However, owning a copy of a photograph does not mean that you own the copyright in the image, which is why you can’t do whatever you want with the picture. If the person who sent you a photo intended to give you the copyright as well, the copyright assignment would have to be in writing.

Think of getting a photo via email or text message like it getting a postcard in the mail. The postcard was addressed to you so you now own it, which means it you can look at it, put it on your refrigerator, and if the message doesn’t contain something that any reasonable person would know the sender would expect to be kept private – you could show it to others. However, you cannot make photocopies of the postcard and sell it or send it to others without the copyright holder’s permission.

Keeping this in mind, it should be obvious that the fact that someone sent you a photograph does not give you permission to do whatever you want with it. You would have to get permission from the copyright holder to post it online, and if it’s an image the sender would expect you to keep private, merely showing it to others could be illegal. If the photo in question is an explicit image, showing it to others could violate your state’s revenge porn law, which may be a felony.

With few exceptions (like child pornography) having a photo is not illegal but what you do with it could be. Therefore, if someone sends you a photo of themselves, you may keep it for your personal viewing pleasure but it could be illegal to share it with others.

This is an area of law that is still evolving. Since mobile devices come equipped with cameras, it’s important for everyone who has one is mindful of their dos and don’ts regarding sending and receiving images. If you want to talk more about this topic, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Google Reverses Ban on Porn on Blogger Sites

Censored by Peter Massas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Censored by Peter Massas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last month Google announced an upcoming change in its terms of service that would ban all pornography from Blogger sites. (Blogger is Google’s blogging platform.) This change would have been retroactive and impacted some users who have used Blogger to post sexually explicit material for over 10 years. Users reacted hard and fast, saying that posting pornographic material on their sites is an expression of their identities.

Within days, Google made a second announcement saying that they won’t ban all porn on Blogger sites but rather they will be more diligent about their existing policy banned “commercial porn,” meaning porn that is posted online for significant commercial gain. If you have a Blogger site and you want to sexually explicit material, you’re required to mark those posts as “adult” so Google can put them behind an “adult content” warning page.

I found the initial announcement banning porn on Blogger puzzling. Why would Google, a company that serves an international community of amazing creative people, consider such a conservative policy change? I’m a huge advocate for preventing sexual victimization, child pornography, and revenge porn but those are very different issues than the voluntary creation of legal adult content, produced by adults for an adult audience. Blogger is a blogging platform so I assume most people have little or no financial gain from running their sites.

This is a topic where each person may have a slightly different belief regarding what is art and what is pornography based on personal and cultural differences. In the conservative U.S., a topless woman is considered explicit but in other countries, topless models (men and women) are used in mainstream advertising and anyone can go topless at the beach. Google made the right decision in regards to this by requiring everyone who uses Blogger to mark their material as “adult” and the consumers can decide for themselves what they’ll read and view and what they will block from their children’s access with parental controls.

Companies like Google that provide services to a worldwide audience have to decide how policies should be written, which appears to be a challenging task. I’m pleased to see in this instance that Google listened to its users and the culture of the internet in general and repealed this ban.

If you want to talk more about free speech, censorship, and the internet, please connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or send me an email.

Photos, the Internet, and the Law – FAQs

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I get a lot of hits on my site from people asking questions about what they can and can’t do with photos that they get from someone else that’s sent to them, texted to them, or that they find online. In many cases, the person who took the photo (not necessarily the person in the photo unless it’s a selfie) is the copyright holder and so they have the right to decide when and how their photo will be copied, distributed, and displayed. If you want to use their photo, you need their permission. If you want to own the copyright, they have to give it to you in a written and signed contract.

Let’s look at some of the more common and interesting questions I get. (Of course, any situation involving the legalities of using a particular photo is fact dependent and you need to consider the specific circumstances. These cases are often governed in part by state laws so you have to look at what rules apply to you.)

May I Post Someone’s Photo on the Internet without Consent?
If we’re talking about a situation where you want to know if you can take a photograph of another person and post it online, the answer is often “Yes.” If you’re the photographer, you’re usually the copyright holder so you get to decide where your work is displayed. However, if you want to make money off the photo or use it for a commercial purpose, you often need the person’s consent.

If were talking about a situation where you’re not the photographer and you want to use another person’s photograph, you need that person’s permission to use their work.

What if I Illegally used Someone’s Photo but I had Good Intentions?
The law often cares about what you did more than your intentions. In many cases it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to hurt anybody or that you didn’t know what you’re doing was illegal.

If Someone takes a Photo of Me and They Don’t Delete it, Can I Sue?
It depends. Remember you have no expectation of privacy in public so if you’re just upset that a photo was taken and they don’t use it to harass you, make money, or otherwise violate your rights, there is often little you can do about it.

What are the Laws about taking Photographs of People on Private Property?
You would have to look at what laws apply in your state, but typically the property owner or manager sets and enforces the rules, including rules about photographs. Be mindful when you go into businesses or attend events that there may be a notice posted that informs you that by being on the property, you are consenting to being photographed and the property owner can use those images however they want without needing any additional consent or payment of compensation to you.

Can You be Sued if You Post Someone’s Picture Online if They Sent it to You in a Text Message?
The law treats photos taken by cell phones the same as other photographs. If someone sends you a picture in a text, you have permission to look at it. It doesn’t give you permission to send it to other people or posted online without the person’s consent. Be very careful if this is a situation involving a nude or intimate photo because the depending on the person in the photo’s age, it could be child pornography. Additionally, several states have passed criminal laws against revenge porn.

What if Someone took a Picture off my Facebook Profile and put it on Theirs?
When you post a photograph on Facebook, the “Share” function implicitly gives permission to anyone who has access to the image to share it according to the settings of the site. If it’s a situation where somebody downloads your photo or takes a screen shot that include your photo, and then posts it to their profile or somewhere else online, that is likely of violation of your copyright rights.

Is it Illegal for a Family Member to Post Pictures of You on the Internet?
It depends. The law applies equally to family members as to other people. If it’s their photograph, meaning they are the copyright holder, there may be little you can do unless posting that image somehow violates one of your rights. If you don’t like that someone is posting images of you online, hopefully they will respect you enough to remove them upon request.

As I said before, cases involving photographs are governed by federal and state laws, so if you have a legal question in this arena please consult a copyright attorney in the your community for assistance. If you believe that you might be the victim of a crime that involves a photograph, please call your local law enforcement agency.

If you want to talk about this issue further, please connect with me on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If there is a specific situation you want to discuss, please send me an email.

Yahoo Taking Advantage of Creative Commons with Flickr Wall Art – Hope they Don’t Screw it Up

1404 Phoenix Zoo-59 by Devon Christopher Adams from Flickr (Used with Permission)

1404 Phoenix Zoo-59 by Devon Christopher Adams from Flickr (Used with Permission – Devon & I have a standing agreement about using his work.)

My friend and amazing photographer Devon Christopher Adams tipped me off about Yahoo’s announcement that people can buy Flickr Wall Art of Creative Commons images from Flickr . If Yahoo does this right, it’s a brilliant business move. If they do it wrong, I hate them.

When a photographer posts their images on Flickr, they can designate whether they are restricting all copyright rights (“all rights reserved” aka don’t use my work without ask my explicit permission first) or attaching a Creative Commons license to it. A Creative Commons license means anyone can use the photographer’s work as long as you follow the rules of the license. For example, I often use Creative Commons images on my blogs but I only use photos that come with the license to modify and commercialize them. This allows me to crop the photo and to use it for business purposes – like a blog post on my law firm’s website.

If Yahoo only uses images for its wall art product that come with the license to commercialize them, then Yahoo already has permission to print these images onto paper or canvas and sell them, as long as they follow the other rules of the license.

Every Creative Commons license I’ve ever seen requires giving the copyright holder an attribution for their work. (Always give credit where it’s due!) I would hope that Yahoo would put the attribution on the front of the image – in a lower corner, so anyone who sees it can know who created the image. If that’s not possible (and good luck convincing me it’s not possible), at least put a non-removable label or notice on the back of who the copyright holder is and a URL to the original image on Flickr. If they don’t give an attribution as the license requires, they could be committing copyright infringement and could face a cease and desist letter, a bill, or a lawsuit.

I’m a huge advocate of copyright holders, especially in the arts community. I think a lot of photographers aren’t given the credit they deserve because many people assume they can replicate a photographer’s work with their smart phone – until they try to do it and they see how much skill it really takes.  Photographers constantly have to deal with people stealing their work online. It’s so wonderful to see them becoming more savvy about their legal rights.

I hope Yahoo is diligent about giving photographers the credit they deserve and respecting when a photographer changes the license on their Flickr account to only allow non-commercial uses. This won’t impact a person’s ability to own wall art of it prior to the license being changed; but Yahoo should stop selling it if the artist doesn’t want the company making money from it.

I hope Flickr Wall Art becomes an avenue for photographers to get exposure for their work in ways that will create new opportunities for them and that they won’t feel like Yahoo is taking advantage of them. If done properly, whoever at Yahoo who came up with this idea deserve a muffin basket for seeing this business opportunity.

Copyright and the internet is a murky area of law, and one that is still evolving. If you want more information about this topic, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Who to Ask for Permission to Use a Photo

What is a Real Image?  by puuikibeach from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What is a Real Image? by puuikibeach from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I had the pleasure of speaking at TechPhx over the weekend and fielding a lot of questions about how the law applies to blogging and podcasting, especially copyright, trademark, and privacy issues. The big take-home lesson surrounding copyright is usually “get permission” to use a photo on your site by using images from Creative Commons or asking the copyright holder for permission to use their work. (I’ve never had anyone tell me “no.”)

But what do you do if there’s an image you want to use and you can’t tell who the copyright holder is to ask permission?

I would start by evaluating the situation where I found the photo and contact the website administrator if it’s on a website or the profile owner if it’s on a social media site and say something like, “This picture is really beautiful. Who took the photo?” or “Where did you find this photo?” I probably wouldn’t ask, “Who is the copyright holder?” because a lot of people don’t understand copyright law and they think that owning a photo or having a copy of the file means they own the copyright, when they don’t.

I saw a situation where a publication asked a person if they could use some of the photos she posted on her social media site in an upcoming edition and she said “yes.” Unfortunately, that person wasn’t the copyright holder and she didn’t understand that she didn’t have the authority to give such permission. The publication thought they did everything right but because they didn’t verify they had permission from the copyright holder, they had a bit of a mess to fix once the photographer learned what had happened and informed the publication that they used his work without his permission.

Another tactic I might use if I wanted to find a copyright holder is run the photo through the Google Image search engine to see where else the image is available online. That might reveal the original source.

Here’s a video with more information about how to determine who is the copyright holder or whether is in the public domain.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you can’t determine who the copyright holder is to ask permission to use their work, you may want to ask yourself how important it is to use that particular image and whether a similar image that is available under Creative Commons.

If you want more information about how copyright law applies to blogging and social media, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Avoid Copyright Infringement in your Social Media Posts

+ I collect old cameras + Land camera 1000 w/ polatronic 1 {b} by PhotKing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

+ I collect old cameras + Land camera 1000 w/ polatronic 1 {b} by PhotKing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The other day I smiled when I saw a friend put a post on Facebook that included a Creative Commons attribution. He was the person who taught me how important it is, just from the perspective of respect, to get permission before posting another person’s work on your social media page. This was before I studied and fell in love with copyright.

Now, it warms my little lawyer heart to see someone respecting copyright.

And I finally have time to read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, which is filled with helpful information on how to market your business and excellent demonstrative case studies. One of his lessons is to use each platform to suit the needs to the users. So if a site is visually-focused, like Facebook or Pinterest, you want to create posts that have images that will provide users value and hopefully they’ll share them. His book has great examples of how companies are doing this effectively and what habits you shouldn’t emulate.

This is when the red flag went up for me.

If a company’s marketing department created a photo, there’s no problem with copyright. But if a company is using someone else’s photo (because companies don’t just have to talk about themselves online), they have to deal with the question of whether they have permission to use the image in question.

A lot of companies appear to be thoughtful about making sure they are using their own photos or finding images via Creative Commons for their website or blog. However, they don’t apply the same standards to their social media posts. If you’re doing this, and pulling images from other site without getting permission from the copyright owner, you could be setting your company up to be accused of copyright infringement and face a cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice, a bill, or possibly a lawsuit.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverI’ve been inspired by people who use social media effectively and find amazing images to incorporate into their posts. I hope to create more content on social media that’s worth sharing. If you’re in my boat, please make sure to use images you own or use Creative Commons. When I use Creative Commons, I only pull images that come with a license that let me modify (aka crop them) and commercialize them. And even on social media, give your photographer the attribution. You may be legally obligated to do it, and it’s also a sign of respect for their work.

If you need an effective legal resource written in layman’s terms on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What Should You Do If Someone Steals Your Work

Attention - Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Attention – Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Copyright infringement appears to be rampant on the internet. Some people don’t understand that they can’t use anything they find online. They don’t understand that the law lets the copyright holder dictate where their work is displayed and distributed. Some people get defensive when they get caught and say you should be happy that you’re giving them exposure.  Others know it’s illegal and take the gamble that you won’t notice or that you won’t object if you see what they’ve done.

Make Sure It’s Your Work They Copied
People don’t always own what they think they own. Check your contracts to verify that you are the copyright owner and not just the creator of a work. Remember – employees don’t own the copyright in anything they create within the scope of their job but independent contractors retain the copyright in anything they create unless there’s a written copyright assignment or work made for hire contract. Additionally, two artists can independently come up with similar ideas for original works and it may not be problematic so long as they’re only claiming rights in what they created.

How Do You Want This To End?
This is the question I ask all my clients who are in a suspected intellectual property infringement situation. Their goal determines my course of action. Ideally you should determine how you want to react to infringement before it occurs so you can lay the foundation in advance for your desired outcome.

If you just want the infringer to take down your work, you can respond with one of the following:

If you want the alleged infringer to pay you for using your work you can send a bill or sue them for infringement. If you want to pursue one of these options, you definitely want to use a lawyer to contact the alleged infringer on your behalf or through the court.

If you’re OK with the person using your work, you should send them a notice that gives them permission and requests they ask permission before using your work in the future. You always want to respond when you suspect someone is using your work without consent. Otherwise you could create the impression that you’ve attached a blanket license for anyone to use your work which could hurt your chances of going after other suspected infringers in the future.

Please note – you can send a notice without being a jerk about it. Jack Daniel’s sent what’s been referred to as the nicest cease and desist letter when an author copied Jack Daniel’s label on his book cover.  You could write or ask your attorney to do something similar

If you need a legal resource about how to avoid problems related to copyright and trademark infringement online, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to intellectual property and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.