Copyright infringement can happen to any education marketer. No legal advice here — just a PSA from a friend on how to protect yourself.
First off, copyright infringement can happen to anyone. It even happened to me, and I’m pretty careful about these things.
But quite often, it is small institutes with limited staff that fall into the trap of using copyrighted material improperly. It’s just hard when you’ve only got so many resources at your disposal.
But even when you know what you’re doing, if you don’t have the right policies in place, you might find yourself in the boat I was in.
Not Everything on the Internet is True
Recently, I received a letter from a firm claiming I had violated the copyright of one of their clients. Basically, I was told to pay the bill (thousands of dollars) or face legal repercussions.
The letter took me completely by surprise.
I’ve been doing education marketing for a long time now, and we use rich media like images all the time to increase click-thru rates, shares, and other marketing goals. It’s kind of a prerequisite to know and understand copyright laws in my line of work.
So, I dove into my media files to find the image allegedly in violation.
I found it buried deep in the archives of my blog. Then, I had to relocate where I originally found the image.
In the search engine, the image was represented as available for free, public use, no requirements or stipulations.
In reality, this wasn’t the case at all.
Live and Learn
The image was protected under a Creative Commons license that allowed public, non-commercial use, but required proper attribution to the image author.
I’m happy to attribute credit to artists for their work, but it was misrepresented in the search results, and there was no author info available to make a proper attribution.
My friend, the real PSA here is that you can’t trust everything you find on the Internet.
Hindsight is 20/20. I wouldn’t use an image like that ever now, even if the search engine says I can.
Today, I want to share what we do now at Caylor Solutions in light of this unexpected, unwelcome surprise so that it never happens to you.
I’m not a legal expert, and this blog should not be considered legal advice in any way. But as your friend and fellow education marketer, please allow me to break from the traditional Caylor blog post to give you this Caylor Solutions Public Service Announcement.
Let’s start with the obvious.
In the education world, plagiarism is a cardinal sin. Stealing another academics’ ideas, words, or other work is a potentially career-ending move.
But when it comes to images, audio, and video files, education marketers all too often will find what they’re looking for in a Google search and then put the file into their blog post or website without permission from the author.
This is a BIG no-no. Yet for some reason, well-meaning professionals find themselves doing this very thing, usually not realizing what they have done is wrong.
The majority of images, audio files, and video files you find on the Internet are subject to strict copyright laws — and you need permission from the author to use them on your site.
Just say no!
It’s too risky to nab images or other artwork from a Google search and place it on your school’s website. This is true even if you’re checking the “labeled for reuse” box in Google’s tools. Your school may be forced to pay thousands of dollars per file used if a lawsuit is filed against you.
Use Caution with Creative Commons
There are different types of CC licenses, and each one comes with a specific set of requirements for anyone who uses the author’s work.
A “Creative Commons License” doesn’t mean there are no stipulations with its use!
In my case, I inadvertently misused that Creative Common image because I did not attribute it to the author in the manner described by the license.
I understood how Creative Commons licenses worked back then, but I was working with bad information and I didn’t take the time to double-check my sources. Lesson learned!
Don’t Assume They Won’t Find You
While my mistake was done unwittingly, there are lots of education marketers that choose not to attribute credit to the author simply because they don’t have the time, or the author’s info isn’t available, or the way it should be attributed isn’t clear.
Too many times, busy marketers assume it’s no big deal. How would anyone even know?
Don’t assume you’re too small for someone to care that you misused their artwork.
There are companies and legal firms that create spiders, web robots, to crawl the Internet looking for copyright infringement cases. No matter how small or remote your college, university, or independent school is, you will be found eventually.
It’s just a matter of time. Web robots don’t sleep.
A Crash Course in Creative Commons Licenses
So how many CC license types are there?
The Creative Commons site says that there are six main license types. Each has a different level of restrictions and rules for using the artwork.
Some CC licenses allow you to use the artwork in almost any way you want, as long as you attribute them properly to the author.
Some allow usage, but only for non-commercial use. Still, others restrict usage of the art almost entirely, only allowing it to be downloaded.
In all of the license types, proper attribution is required.
It’s like correctly citing sources in a thesis or essay. It’s a must.
Save Yourself the Hassle
There are two ways you can get amazing images for your website or school blog without having to navigate the requirements of Creative Commons licenses.
- Create your own artwork.
- Pay for stock artwork.
Creating Your Own Artwork
At first, you might balk at the idea of creating your own images, audio, or video content for your education website.
However, the cost of quality video and audio production equipment is becoming more and more affordable. Believe it or not, you can put together a powerful video content creation kit for $2,000 or less!
There are a lot of reasons to consider creating your own rich media content, but legally speaking, you’ll never infringe on copyright when it’s your own content. And besides, original art conveys brand authenticity which makes it worth the effort just for that.
Again, this is not legal advice, but as I understand it, if an employee of your school creates the art while being paid for their regular duties, the copyright should belong to you.
However, I believe by default that the copyright of any piece of art is owned by whoever created the image, audio, or video file. So if you hire an artist, photographer, or videographer, make sure you have a work-for-hire agreement in effect so that the copyright belongs to your school.
I’ve been using stock images for my blog and website for years now without any problems at all. I subscribe to a stock image monthly plan, which keeps my rich media budget well under control.
Here are some great stock photo subscription services:
- Adobe Stock
- Free Stock Photos that Don’t Suck (List of some amazing photos that allow public use. Double-check all copyright information just in case!)
Friend to Friend
There are some things you can learn by experience — but it’s even better if you learn from the experience of others!
So please learn from my story today, friend to friend.
And with over 40 years of combined experience in education marketing on the Caylor team, there’s a lot of expertise you can leverage to help you reach your marketing goals. If you’re ready, let’s talk!
With tight budgets and deadlines, it’s tempting to get lax on how we use images and video on the Internet.
My strong recommendation: Don’t use Creative Commons files— unless you know how to attribute each piece of artwork properly.
Do you use a stock photo subscription or do you create your own art? How does your educational institution protect itself from marketing legal traps like this?
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