Important to Repeat
I’ve written about copyright issues in several previous posts yet the how-to-protect-your-work articles continue to show up in my Inbox. That means it’s an important part of publishing any works, written or otherwise, including photos. Social Media abounds with photos people have taken whether they’re professional photographers (think National Geographic) or not. I’m guilty of saving many beautiful photos that struck me just right in the moment; however, I never used them in any of my written or artistic work. That would be copyright infringement.
According to attorney Matt Knight of the Sidebar Saturdays blog, we have to be careful using others’ photographs as they may contain someone else’s copyrighted or trademarked work. That can be any item or person or logo somewhere in a picture. For example, you photograph a friend while at an art museum with a famous painting in the background. While you can probably share that photo with friends to show off your visit to the museum, you can’t use it in any type of commerce situation (that means where you would profit from the picture).
A Long List
In the U.S., copyrights give exclusive rights to “use, reproduce, and distribute” your creative works. When discussing copyright issues, many people first think literary. But protections extend far beyond that. Matt Knight writes:
“… copyright protection also extends to paintings, photos, maps, drawings, charts, lithographs, sculptures, globes, stained-glass windows, pottery, jewelry, labels, wallpaper, furniture, toys, buildings, and fabrics. Photos contain many of these items.”
Whew. What a list!
Here’s a little breakdown: any work created on or after January 1, 1978, copyright protections last for the LIFE of the creator PLUS 70 years. If no one knows when the artist/creator died, then it’s 120 years from the date of creation of the work. After all that, the work enters public domain and can be used by anyone for commerce or personal reasons. You can check out Matt’s blog for the rules on works created prior to 1978.
What can’t be copyright protected? Plenty. Here’s a short list from Matt’s blog: “Titles, names, short phrases, slogans, logos, inventions, facts, ideas, and procedures.” Still have to be careful, as trademarks may exist with any of these. Always smart to check first, with the Federal Copyright Office at copyright.gov.
More Legal Protections
Fair Use is a rather complicated part of copyright law; I’m not an attorney but you can read more about it in detail here.
Trademarked products are also protected. Trademarks are often thought of as brands (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Geico, etc.). If the trademark is used in commerce (like the three I listed), they can be used in perpetuity (like the three I listed). Matt writes:
“Trademarks can be words, symbols, slogans, logos, packaging, colors, figurines, toys, sounds, scents, or combinations thereof.”
Basically, you can’t use something trademarked by someone else because it causes confusion of ownership “as to the source of the goods.” And you can get into a lot of legal hot water for it. It’s not worth the risk, even with all the gazillion photos and creative art works all over the Internet. Watermark or sign your work to protect your creations. If you’re still not sure how to do this, check out this page from the late (what a loss to our community) Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer. Or on Matt Knight’s blog, Sidebar Saturdays.
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