Avoid Lawsuit: Copyright Infringement and Your Business


Copyright infringement is the easiest way for well-meaning professionals to accidentally cost their company thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars. Whether or not you have a marketing department, make sure that your staff is aware of copyright infringement laws when creating any type of content, from presentations to promotional materials.

Before you use an image, always ask yourself, “does my company own this image?” You may think that providing attribution to the original creator of any graphic content puts you in the clear, but this is a misconception. Unless you have the appropriate permissions to use the content, citing the person who created it does not diminish the copyright infringement.

The best way to ensure that you’re not violating any laws is to create your own graphic content. The only issue to be aware of here is that you will need model releases for people visible in promotional images. If creating original graphics doesn’t make financial sense for your company, make sure that you either pay for your photos or that they are downloaded from a free stock photography site. If you find yourself purchasing photographs frequently, consider a stock image subscription; common providers include Getty Images and Shutterstock.

On the other side of things, it’s critical to protect any original graphic content that your business creates from theft. Most companies’ greatest concern is that someone will take photography or art designed to represent their brand and repurpose it. The best way to prevent this from happening is to add branding elements to your graphics, making it clear that you own the collateral. Putting a logo in the corner is the most common and easiest way to accomplish this.

While there are clear lines on what is acceptable for graphic content– if you don’t legally own it, don’t use it anywhere– they are a little more blurred for copy. Everyone knows that you can’t take something word for word and claim it as your own. So if you rephrase something, it’s probably ok, right? Well, not necessarily.

“Patchwriting” is a practice that has grown in popularity amidst this age of content creation. With high demand for content and a seemingly unlimited amount already present on the internet, many writers have taken existing work and rearranged sentence structure or adjusted tenses to provide the same ideas as the original piece, with slightly different presentation. This not only saturates industry content with unoriginal ideas, but also gets writers in trouble. While not technically illegal, this lazy practice has cost many content marketers their jobs and reputations.

Self-plagiarization is another issue that’s not often considered, but is critical for journalists, marketing professionals, and freelancers to be aware of. If you are hired by a client to develop original content, repurposing previously created work is unethical. This infraction is easy to avoid– don’t use an old document for a new client or news story.

Professionals also find themselves in hot water when they make it sound like they spoke directly with a source that they actually quoted from another article. If you’re writing a press release about an upcoming event that your company will sponsor, quotes from another source cannot be used without citing that source. A correct example is to write, “As Jane Doe told The Business Report, ‘The event is bound to be a hit!’” Here the true origin of the quote is acknowledged, ensuring that all parties receive credit where it’s due.

If you conduct your research using multiple sources, give credit for any direct quotes, and add your own ideas when writing content, you are creating original, legal material. Most professionals find themselves in trouble when faced with a topic or market that they don’t understand, or a difficult deadline. Remember, your professional integrity is important to you and your customers. Ensure that each member of your staff understands both the ethics of your business and copyright infringement laws before they generate any content– these accidents tend to be time consuming, public, and very costly.

By Caitlin Harder, Copywriter & Digital Marketing Strategist, Liquid Creative

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