Copyright and Business
Do you own a small business? Do you create your own content for that business? Then this post is for you. A good friend of mine recently posted a picture on her business Facebook and Instagram pages and the unthinkable happened. Less than two weeks after posting, a cease and desist letter was sent to her from an attorney. The attorney represents a professional photographer. The letter accuses her business of copyright infringement and is seeking a settlement for damages of $12,500.
Late Friday evening, I get a text from her asking if I happen to know an IP lawyer. Most people that know me know that I’ve gotta guy or a gal for pretty much anything. My friend and I have had some lengthy business conversations in the past, and so she came to me as it happens to be photography-related. Getting a letter from an attorney like that? It’s definitely got to be unnerving. Especially when it’s saying that the cost of settlement would be over 10 THOUSAND DOLLARS. Surely this isn’t legit.
After doing some research it turns out the attorney is real, the letter is real, and the demand for settlement or be taken to court is real. The attorney claims that the photo that was posted on my friends business page is intellectual property of a professional photographer. The photo has been registered with the United States Copyright Office. The photographer did not issue my friend or her business the right to post that photo.
“My business didn’t intentionally look to infringe on her copyright. I would have gladly paid to use it, had I known anything like this would happen.”K.S. on our phone call
You’re probably thinking that’s really excessive, right? It’s just a picture! However, this picture is on the Facebook page for her business. Now, it doesn’t make any claims to being a product or service she provides, it is a general picture that relates to her business. Her friend has been pushing her to post more content on her social media pages. My friend, not really savvy with content creation, basically said she didn’t have any idea on where to start. So a friend of hers said she would help and got her brunch of photos from Google.
What exactly is copyright and how does it relate to your business? To start off, let’s define copyright. Chapter 17 of the United States Code Section 102 states that Copyright is “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
(2)musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3)dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4)pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5)pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(7)sound recordings; and
This means that if you are posting pictures that you found online without permission of the original poster, then your business is violating copyright law. Protect your business from copyright infringement by making sure you have permission to post.
So what does this mean for someone like my friend? In talking to her, it seems as though she has no idea about copyright law. How is anyone supposed to know that an image is a copyright-protected one? No one ever told her that you can’t just look up pictures related to her business and use them.
In an age where copying photos from Google doesn’t seem like a big deal to some, actually is a big deal for others. Similar to how a is protected from having their lyrics used without their permission, a photographer is also protected from having their photographs used without permission. Not by individuals, and certainly not by businesses who could profit from it. You cannot just grab a picture from Google and use it (not even if you preface it with “not my photo”) If you do, whether knowingly or not, you have infringed upon the rights of the person that created the picture.
Back to what this means for my friend. Well, I put her in touch with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. Hopefully they will be able to sort it all out for her. In the meantime, she and I will work together to get some photos of her business in action that she can use for her social media content. Without violating any laws.
If you own your own business, chances are you are doing your own social media posts. I know that creating content for your business can seem like a daunting task, but the last thing you want is an attorney knocking at your door. With sites out there like Canva and Adobe Spark creating social media posts is super easy! However, if you’re like me, figuring out what to say doesn’t come easy. (Well, not for stuff like this! 😂). An easy fix to this would be asking a friend or finding a college to collaborate with.
Above all, create your own original content. Instead of using random pictures from the internet, hire a branding photographer to get pictures of you doing what you do best! If you can’t hire someone, see if you can trade services! You never know what kind of arrangement you can work out!