It is so easy these days to find great content online or in print that we would love to use for our own website, blog post, film, or concert poster. But just because it’s so easy to find and even to copy, it probably isn’t okay to use it with out the permission of the person or company who made it.
Occasionally, it actually is okay to make a “fair use” of someone else’s content. If you are a film professor and you want to show a clip of Apocalypse Now to teach a class on cinematography, for example, you’re most likely okay. Fair use, for purposes such as criticism of the work, commentary on the work, news reporting, teaching, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. Similarly, if you use another company’s brand name in order to talk about their brand or compare your products to theirs (as long as it’s a true comparison!), you will not be liable for trademark infringement.
A lot of people think that the concept of fair use has been expanded a lot since a court told Google that it could scan ALL THE BOOKS without permission. But there are still limits on what Google could do with those books, so you probably can’t assume that your YouTube mashup is fair use. Talk to us first.
Also, really old works (anything created in the United States before 1923) are in the public domain and not protected by copyright anymore, but you have to be careful not to be using an arrangement or an adaptation that was created later and is still protected.
How you get permission can vary widely depending upon the kind of work (especially in the music business), and the person or company who owns it. For music and photography and dead celebrities and some news writings, for example, there are clearinghouses that control the rights for lots of different copyrighted material and can be a one-stop shop for getting permission. Other times, it’s a question of tracking down an individual person or multiple people to get all the rights you need.
At Rick Sanders Law, we can help with this, or we can steer you towards companies that do licensing more efficiently than we can. It may seem like a lot of trouble to get permission sometimes, so you may find that maybe that adorable kitty picture you found on Google isn’t so important for your blog post. (And then again, sometimes, it is!)