Have you ever downloaded an image found online to use for a project, presentation or your company website? Many times, people will assume they can just take any image from the Internet and that it is free to use; however this is typically not the case. Violating copyright law can be costly – yet this mistake is often committed unknowingly.
While this article focuses on Canadian Copyright, it is important to know that copyright law varies in each country/territory, so there may be different rules that apply depending on where you are. Additionally, this article is not meant to be used as legal advice and is intended solely as a resource to provide the basic information about copyright.
Who has copyright?
Did you know that as soon as you create something original, it’s automatically covered by copyright? As the creator, you have the exclusive right to use and make copies of any song, drawing, painting, written text or other creative outlet you produce – copyright comes into effect immediately.
So, if someone takes an image and puts it online, that doesn’t mean you can use it without their permission. If you did, that would be violating their copyright. Even if you’ve attributed the photographer, designer, author, composer (etc.) for their work, it is often still against copyright. It’s easiest to work under the assumption that everything you find online is protected by copyright, and that you do not have permission for use.
A note about text
It can be easy to see how copyright impacts your use of images and video, but what about text and website copy? If your competitors have a similar offering as you, some of your products or services might coincide. You need to ensure that the words you use to describe them are different. For those in school (or those who were students) one way to think about violating copyright is to compare it to plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you use someone else’s ideas or text and pass it off as your own. Notice some of the similarities with copyright infringement?
While students know that plagiarism is a serious offence that could result in expulsion, it’s important to remember that copyright violation is equally severe, if not more so, with the punishment being in the form of a cease and desist letter or even lawsuits. To avoid plagiarism, proper citation needs to be followed. With copyright, however, even if you cite or refer to the original creator, you are still violating their intellectual property!
If you don’t want others to use your work
If you’ve discovered that someone has used your image, song, website copy or other creative work without your express written permission, they are violating your copyright. You may want to consider sending the person a cease and desist letter (there are templates available online), or consulting with a lawyer to determine if further legal action should be taken. Remember that copyright is automatic as soon as your creative work is released. If you want extra protection for your works, you can always register a copyright.
If you want to let others use your work
If you’re open to sharing the creative work that you make, it would be a good idea to look into Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses are free to obtain and based on copyright law to extend certain usage or editing rights to others. There are different options that you can set up depending on how you want your work to be used, if you need to be notified of its use, etc.
- Just because something is online or public, does not mean that it’s available for you to use
- If you would like to use someone else’s creative work, you must get written permission from the creator
- Look for Creative Commons options for individual images, songs, videos, etc. (Creative Commons licenses are usually referenced as a caption below the work, or at the bottom of the webpage). Make sure you follow the license’s guidelines of use.
Consult the Canadian Copyright Guide for more detailed information on copyright. If you’re looking for other ways to protect the various assets of your business, the following links and information may also be relevant.
Trademarks, often interchangeable with logos or company slogans, are the images, words and sounds that are proprietary to your brand. You can register your trademark(s) to prevent others from using a similar idea. In Canada, there is a large database of registered trademarks that you can search through.
Patents and Industrial designs are often grouped together; however they are not the same thing. Patents protect your new invention so that others cannot make, use or sell something similar. They must usually be filed before you’ve introduced the product and it’s important to know that some patents are only valid in certain countries. Industrial Designs cover the visual aspects of product, basically how it looks and not how it functions.
If you’re looking for international information on patents, industrial designs and brands the World Intellectual Property Organization website is a great resource.
Photo Copyright: Sielan