4 Tips For Avoiding Copyright Infringement

Published on June 26, 2015

Let's say you're walking through your neighborhood on the way to a friend's house. It's her birthday, but you haven't had a chance to pick up a cake or presents. (It's not that you forgot - It's just that Netflix dropped the newest season of Orange is the New Black one day early, and, well, things came up.) 

You're coming up with an apology when you walk past an open window where a pie is cooling off. It smells so good, and you know it would make your friend's birthday so special. You look to your left and then to your right. You reach up into the window and make sure the pie pan isn't too hot. It's just warm enough to lift it off of its perch. "Oh, it's nothing," you rehearse to yourself as you grab the pie and run. "It's a family recipe. My grandmother brought it over with her from the old country. Did you know that the crust takes six hours to make?"

In reality, you probably would never take a dessert out of someone's window and then pretend like you made it to impress a friend. But, would you use an image that you didn't create in order to make an impress your blog followers? Copyright infringement can feel like a grey area in today's world of digital and visual marketing, but here are some strategies to help you get a fair piece of the pie.

What Is Copyright? 

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright is "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works." So, that cute kitten picture you're about to pull from Google and use in that PowerPoint? Someone else should get the credit for it, because the government protects their role as a creator. Richard Eaves at Steamfeed breaks it down a little bit more and writes:

"Any individual or group of individuals who designs and/or creates any kind of original work automatically has inherent copyrights to them as soon as they’re created, whether completed or not, published or unpublished, or even if they haven’t been registered with the Copyright Office. You have to assume that everything you come across online is protected."

So, yes, that kitten picture might belong on your presentation, but there are other options and considerations available to you as you try to avoid copyright infringement (which comes with its own set of repercussions). Here are Geek Chicago's four favorite strategies for avoiding copyright infringement.

1. Create Your Own Images

Okay, so this is an obvious one, but we're firm believers in the "teach a man to fish" adage. By learning how to use software like Photoshop, you can build a portfolio, decrease the work you have to contract out, meet a wider range of client needs, and ensure that you are not breaking the law. It's worth the investment. To get started, you might want to check out Lynda.com's accessible online tutorials. 

2. Use the Creative Commons

The Creative Commons is great a way to begin your search for free images. You can select to search for images that can be used commercially from a variety of sources, including flickr and Google. You can also find images that you can adapt or build upon (after you learn how to use Photoshop!). 

3. Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Familiarize yourself with attribution and "fair use." While there are lots of sites that will tell you that attribution is good enough, Wired.com asserts, "Attribution actually has nothing to do with copyright law – it helps you avoid an allegation of plagiarism, but you are infringing an author’s copyright by displaying her work."

So, what's a content producer to do? Get permissions and provide sources. While "fair use" provides "limited use of a copyrighted work for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research," marketing and other typical business practices do not fall into this category. Stay on the safe side of things and reach out to the original producer. If they give you permission to use their work, make sure you give them credit with a proper attribution.

4. Get Out Your Wallet

There's another bumper sticker adage that we like here at Geek: "Artwork is work." That being said, the "original work" mentioned earlier in this article might be available for a price. If you're willing to pay for images, there are plenty of stellar websites with subscription offers. A few that we like are Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and Adobe's Fotolia

With so many images and intellectual properties available online, it can be easy and tempting to utilize someone else's work without following protocol. Fortunately, by educating yourself and using the treasure trove of free resources also found online, you can help support the digital ecosystem of creativity.