Tips for Avoiding Copyright Infringement For Your Business

startup uploading images to website

The way we share things online in our personal lives often colours our approach to business. In a content-driven culture, many of us share images and videos on social media without a second thought - and this often reaches back to our businesses. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds (and even company websites) are littered with snapshots of the latest watercooler shows, and lit up with beautiful portraiture and landscape photography. Here are some tips for avoiding copyright infringement for your business:


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The sheer volume of posts on most of these platforms can prevent rightsholders from taking action to prevent this. However, this doesn’t mean that using content which isn’t yours is legal, or even in a legal grey area. As more of a target than your average internet user, businesses should think very carefully about how they use copyrighted material online - and take a few simple steps to eliminate the risks entirely.

The problem with internet copyright

Despite its advancing age, the internet still has a little of the ‘Wild West’ feel about it. Actions which would be considered crimes in the real world can feel less tangible in the digital one, while copyright can be confusing in a space where items can be instantly copied and shared. The freedom and scope of information available at all times - and the fact that we get most of it for free - can compel people to flout established rules from the world of physical media.

Laws are starting to change to acknowledge this, but for the most part, they are imposing further restrictions. The concept of ‘Fair Use’ enshrined under US law has become less and less reliable, while the new EU Copyright Directive looks set to force companies to filter posts for copyrighted material, and prevent the aggregation and reproduction of news content. Faced with decreasing ad revenues, rightsholders are looking to restate their claim to the digital frontier.

The brunt of this is falling on the platform holders, and the technology they use to identify pirated content. YouTube has become extremely aggressive in removing copyrighted material, causing friction with content creators who claim the system is weighted against them. The legality of GIFs meanwhile is blurred, with some GIF providers partnering with Hollywood studios to try and stay on the straight and narrow. Some large organisations such as the IOC have actively banned GIFs of their content from being shared, while others are happy to turn a blind eye.

Central to this fight is the issue of attribution. While some content creators are happy just to be mentioned and linked to, even this can be tough to enforce. Data attributing an author to a photo or video can be easily stripped out of a file, and reposters are often reluctant to credit authors, either for formatting reasons or to claim the content as their own. With millions of posts every second across myriad platforms, keeping up is beyond both individuals and businesses.


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Tips for preventing copyright infringement

The people who share copyrighted content either aren’t aware of any legal ramifications for doing it, or are acting under the assumption that a sort of ‘herd immunity’ will protect them. After all, if everyone’s doing something, it seems likely that nobody will be punished for it.

While this is a pragmatic approach, it is not a comprehensive one. As platforms develop better means to locate copyrighted content, and the law catches up, businesses will be put at increased risk.

The simplest and most effective approach is to avoid using anything you don’t explicitly have the rights to. This includes GIFs, images, videos and music which you would normally expect to pay for if you were using them in a commercial capacity. While this may seem limiting, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to avoid using copyrighted content. Here are just a few examples to set you on the straight and narrow:

1. Produce the content yourself

The best way to avoid using copyrighted material is to ensure that you own the copyright! Original photos and videos always go down well on social media, as they give a human face to your business. Similarly, self-made videos or podcasts will connect your customers with the people behind the business, providing an insight into what you do and why you do it.

Taking photos on your phone every time you visit another site or carry out work will give you plenty to work with, and act as a portfolio for people visiting your profiles. Professional-looking videos can be shot on your phone too, while recording conversations only requires a £50 microphone and a laptop to get started. 

2. Use royalty-free content

If you can’t produce your own content, there are also plenty of options for royalty-free media. Websites such as Pexels and Pixabay allow you to search for attractive stock images that are free to use in a business context. Similarly, libraries of royalty-free music exist to use as backing in your videos.

If you’re looking for video content to illustrate a point or decorate your website, meanwhile, then embedding a YouTube video is usually acceptable; users who do not want their work embedded have the option to disable this in the video’s settings.

3. Pay for stock images / music

The one evident downside of relying on royalty-free content is that there’s a fairly limited pool to draw from. If your business sits within a particular niche, it’s not uncommon to only have a few relevant images you can use, and every similar business may be using them too. In these situations, it may be worth thinking about investing in content such as paid stock photos.

Services like Shutterstock offer a variety of plans which let you cherry-pick photos from their large catalogues. Few topics remain uncovered, and the range of photos is large enough that you rarely have to worry about seeing your image elsewhere.

A good approach may be to use paid photos for posts you expect to be popular or otherwise wish to boost the popularity of, and use royalty-free ones for more incidental posts. This way, you can ensure that the bulk of attention falls on the social media posts with the highest quality and most unique images.

4. Commission original content

While paid stock imagery is a convenient option, you may wish to be even more original. If you’re looking for something that fits your brand more precisely, one option is to commission photography, video or music to use in your marketing. This will give you a professional product while relieving you of the responsibility for creating content, saving you a substantial amount of time.

Dedicated production studios are one option, and tend to have a broad portfolio for you to decide whether they’re the right fit. If you’re slightly reticent about content production, you might instead look to commission a freelancer, or find someone who’s recently graduated from a creative course. Their services are likely to be cheaper, and they may offer more creative energy, at the potential cost of some polish and time efficiency.

5. Start taking action now

Copyright infringement at the level of social media and website marketing is a difficult topic to advise on, as the perception is that much of it is harmless. But recent moves suggest that the tide is turning, and that businesses who flout the law on online copyright may be in for a shock. Taking action to fix this issue now won’t just stand you in good stead; it can also distinguish your output from other businesses, and allow you to deliver a consistent message across platforms.

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Saturday, 20 July 2019
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