Get right with copyrights

Right or wrong?

  • Since I work for a nonprofit, I can use anything “for educational purposes.”
  • I got it from a source of royalty-free images, so it’s safe to use.
  • I Photoshopped out a bunch of stuff, so now it’s my original work.
  • I Googled this quotation and attributed it, so no problem.
  • I rewrote it a little: now it’s my writing.
  • I’m just using replay material. It’s free to use.
  • I’ve only played 6 ½ seconds of sound. That’s too little for copyright protection.

The answers are all “Wrong.”

Copyright law can be so irritating.

We should realize:

  • Copyright protection is automatic upon creation of work. Additional benefits may be available through official registration.
  • Charitable organizations must comply.
  • Many “royalty free” images carry obligations to attribute, seek the owner’s permission, buy the initial image, or use differently in different situations.
  • No, we can’t change someone else’s creation and call it our own.
  • Quotations may or may not count: it depends.
  • Replaying is also playing.
  • Length is not necessarily an exempting criterion.

Will you get caught?

You might. I worked in the music industry decades ago, at a time when living composers and publishing houses pooled resources and went after neighborhood churches whose photocopy machines ran wild. The industry won huge settlements which, I imagine, some good institutions are still paying off.

Is it fair to sneak?

We’re free-market people. We care about people reaping the wages of their labor, including their mental and creative labor. When someone steals the work of my brain, it can ruin my whole year, not to mention my capacity to earn.

What’s covered

Think about what is covered by copyright protection as anything a creative mind can put out: sound, words, visuals, online content.

Remember that many logos and product brand elements are copyrighted or trademarked. We can’t just insert Mickey Mouse’s picture in an ad against silly rules and regulations. Disney Enterprises owns the rodent’s mug.

Next article, I’ll add information about how to make great communications products while complying with the letter and the ethical standard of copyright law.

Questions, comments, and objections to this information are more than welcome:, 520-954-0266.