Have you ever needed an image to use on your company’s website or blog? If so, you’ve probably wondered about which content you can use legally. You’re not alone: In the age of the internet, copyright law is a crucial consideration for business owners. By staying up to date on copyright rules, you can get the content you need – all while protecting your company.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is the right to copy, reproduce or reuse a work. “Work” can be anything that someone creates, from a photograph to an audio recording. In Canada, you automatically get the copyright when you create a work. That means you can control how your work is used.
Copyright is not the same as a trademark, patent or protection for an industrial design. It applies to:
- Written words
- Artistic works, including photographs and videos
- Dramatic works, such as plays
- Musical works, including songs and lyrics
- Computer programs
- Audio recordings
- Communication signals, such as radio waves
Do You Need to Register for Copyright?
As soon as you create something original, you automatically get the copyright for it; as the creator, you have the exclusive right to use it. Copyright comes into effect immediately – no need to register. If your business depends on protecting your work, however, you may want to do so. Why? When you register a copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, you get an official certificate. If you’re ever involved in a copyright dispute, you can use that registration to prove your ownership.
Say you write a training manual for your clients to use, but a competitor gets hold of the design, publishes it in book form, and starts making a profit off your work. You most likely want to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement to force the competitor to stop. If you registered the copyright as soon as you finished the manual, you have solid evidence for the lawsuit. When your company creates valuable content, copyright registration can go a long way toward protecting your interests.
Keeping Your Business on the Right Side of Copyright Law
Naturally, copyright law goes both ways. As an individual and business owner, you’re responsible for honoring other people’s copyrights. The most common dilemma? Figuring out what content you can use from the internet. Say you’re writing a new post for your company’s blog and you need a photo. Can you take one from the internet? What if you include a credit and link to the original website? This is common practice, but unless the original website specifically states that you can use its images, it’s illegal under copyright law.
That doesn’t mean every online image, song, and video is off limits. In fact, there are plenty of legal ways to use other people’s content in your own work. You can:
- Contact the website owner to ask for written permission to use a specific item
- Look at the website’s policies to see if the the creator grant usage rights and be sure to check how to credit the creator
- Search for royalty-free images
Not sure if an image is safe to use? It’s easiest to work under the assumption that everything you find online is protected by copyright and that you don’t have permission to use it. Copyright violations can come with some pretty steep fines, so this is the best way to keep your business safe.
How to Find Content That’s Safe to Use
As a business, there’s a good chance you need a steady stream of content. You might need a song to use in the background of a promo video, for example, or you might want an image for your product packaging.
When it comes to images, Wikimedia Commons and Flickr are two great sources as long as you choose images with the right licences. Because you’re using the images for commercial use, you should look for images that have the “commercial use allowed” or “commercial use and modifications allowed” licences. To find out how to use a photo legally, click on the licence link; usually, you need to credit the author and provide a link to the licence.
Understanding Copyright and Text
It’s easy to see how copyright affects how you use images and video, but what about text and website copy? After all, you may be offering similar products or services as your competitors. To keep yourself safe under copyright law, it’s important to use different words to describe your offerings. That way, you don’t run the risk of accidental infringements. If you sell another company’s products, it’s a good idea to check into its policies. Are you allowed to use the company’s product descriptions, or do you need to write your own?
What Can You Do If Someone Violates Your Copyright?
If you’ve discovered that someone has used your image, song, website copy, or other creative work without your permission, what do you do? One option is to send a cease and desist letter asking the person or company to stop. If they’re accidentally violating your copyright, this is probably enough to get them to stop. If that doesn’t work, you may need to consider a copyright infringement lawsuit.
On the other hand, if you want to allow others to use your work, you can get a free Creative Commons licence. That way, you can give permission and control exactly how you want to be credited or notified.
The internet makes it easy to save and use copyrighted material. By asking for permission, checking for free-use licences, and following the licence rules carefully, you can use content legally and keep your company safe. Another way to protect your business? Track your finances carefully. 4.3 million customers use QuickBooks. Join them today to help your business thrive for free.