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.

Legal Issues if you Outsource your Blog Content

“Sam, Sam, the Gorilla Man” by Beth Rankin from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I don’t believe in outsourcing my blog content, but I understand that some people do because they’re busy, or they’re afraid they’re not a good writer, or they’re not dedicated to maintaining their site. Whatever the reason, it happens. If you fall into this boat, there are some legal ramifications you need to be aware of and plan for.

Regardless of who you use to write your blog material, you should review every post before it goes up to ensure that the content is accurate, especially if you work in a field where misstatements can happen and readers could be harmed if they rely on your blog’s information.

Copyright
If you outsource your blog to a third party, your content creator owns the copyright in whatever they create for you unless you have a contract that states otherwise. Without this contract, they own everything and, at most, you have an implied license to use it on your site. If you want to repurpose a blog post, you have to get your writer’s permission; otherwise, you could commit copyright infringement by reusing the material from your own site.

Indemnification
When your writer creates a post, you often do not know what source material they used or where they got the images for each post. (Yes, every blog post needs an image.) There is always a risk that your writer will rip off someone else’s verbiage or image without your knowledge.

If you do not review each post before it is released on your site, there is a risk that your writer could post something defamatory or harmful to another person. The alleged victim in that case might sue you for damages because they were injured because of your website. To avoid this problem, you can protect yourself with an indemnification clause that holds the blogger responsible for the damage they cause or at least requires them to a pay your attorneys’ fees and/or damages assessed against you.

Clear Contracts
If you work with a third party content creator, you want a clear contract that explains all the pertinent aspects of your relationship – what they will create for you, deadlines, who is responsible for website problems, if they’re allowed to write similar content for others, how you’re going to resolve problems, who will own the copyright, and if the writer can use posts as work samples if they assign the copyright to you.

I love contracts. If the term “contract” is a turn-off for you, think of it as a relationship management document. All it is a document that lays out how your relationship is going to work. I made a video this week about how awesome contracts are.

When you work with third party content creators, not having a contract is not an option. If you want to chat more contracts for your content creators, connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also check out my books about the legalities of blogging:

Please subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter and visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New & Improved – The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed

LSB - option 3In case you haven’t heard the news, the revision of my ebook The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed, is out and available in the Kindle Store!  (For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle apps that will let you download and read it on your phone, tablet, and even your desktop computer.)

I love blogging. I love that every week I get to stand on my digital soapbox and pontificate about anything I want. (Don’t you just love the word “pontificate?”) Early on in my writing career a journalist friend told me that a journalist’s job is to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That has become my motto as well. I love that I get to write things that other people are thinking but maybe don’t have the guts to say themselves. I find it validating when people do that for me and I’m happy to pay it forward for others.

ruthcover smallerOf course when you’re an outspoken blogger and a law student (now a lawyer), you start asking a lot of questions about what you can say without getting into trouble. That led to me to writing a blog series about the legal side of blogging, taking a class on cyberspace law where I wrote a paper on the topic, and eventually this book. When you have a blog, you have an obligation to know how far you can push the envelope without crossing the line. And then when people get pissed at you because of a post, there’s often nothing they can do about it because you’ve done nothing wrong.  The law rarely gives you any type of recourse just because someone made you sad.

I wasn’t planning on writing a revision of my ebook so soon, but a conversation with the Copyright Office earlier this year forced my hand.  Apparently the word “published” had different meaning to normal rational people and the Copyright Office so I had to revise my chapter on copyright registration and I’m even more convinced that the Copyright Act needs a complete overhaul because it makes no sense when it comes to a lot of material that is only released on the internet.

Since I was doing revisions, I also added a section about anti-SLAPP laws too. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. This is the type of counterclaim you can file when someone files a lawsuit against you because of your blog in an effort to shut you up. We don’t like it when people sue people just because they don’t like what they have to say but what they’re saying is not illegal.

I hope you enjoy The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and recommend it to all your friends who are active on social media. I wrote this book with bloggers in mind but the lessons apply equally well to all types of social media.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Stance on Blog Copyright Registration

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Grrr . . . It seems like every time I call the Copyright Office with a question about blog copyrights, I have to change my stance on how and whether anyone should register their blog’s content. Mind you, when I wrote the Legal Side of Blogging last year, my research and ideas were approved by my cyberspace law professor and another internet/copyright attorney. We all got it wrong.

I used to think that bloggers should register their new content every three months because the Copyright Act says you’re eligible for statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever is first. In a previous call to the Copyright Office, the representative said it was permissible to register all your content as one work and that subsequent registrations would be derivative works of the prior ones.

A few months ago I was informed that content that is only available online (including blog posts) doesn’t count as “publications,” so that rule about registering within three months of publication doesn’t apply. For unpublished content, you have to register you work prior to the infringement occurring to be eligible for statutory damages. If you wait until after your work has been stolen to register you work you can only collect actual damages, which will be low unless you or the person who stole your work has a financially successful site.

I called the Copyright Office yesterday and was told that you can’t register posts that are released on different days as one work (though my experience is proof that you can) and you can’t register the same post as an individual work and as part of a larger work, (though I think there’s some wiggle room here).

So here’s my new stance – registering your blog content is not worth it for most people. The exception to this rule is you might want to register your work if you think it will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. If you’re in this boat, or think you might be, you should submit your application to the Copyright Office before you release the post on your site to ensure that your application will be in before any infringement can occur.

This is more proof of how behind the times the law is and that you can’t apply logic to copyright on the internet. I think it’s moronic that online content isn’t “published” when it’s released on the internet. I think this definition will change in the near future with so many publications switching from paper to being online only. As the law is written and applied the law seems unfair because it makes it harder for online writers to protect themselves.

There is a special copyright registration for “serial works” but so far the Copyright Office says blogs, including those that are released on a strict schedule like other serial publications, do not qualify. I think this is wrong and needs to be challenged.

For now, I’ve added a disclaimer to my ebook on Amazon that states that the copyright registration chapter is inaccurate and will be updated this summer. I hope to add the revised chapter to the book in the next month once it gets through legal review and editing.