Are you using pictures you find online on your law firm website? You could be breaking copyright rules. This is a topic that you would assume most lawyers are well aware of but there are countless law firms finding themselves violating serious copyright rules as a result. In the paragraphs below, we will address image optimization and copyright issues, particularly for law firms.
What’s copyright and why does it matter?
As a creator, you are given exclusive use and distribution of your original work through copyright for a limited duration. There are of course limitations and exceptions to this rule. Copyright and trademark are often used interchangeably but they mean two different things. Creators are automatically given exclusive ownership of their work even without registering the copyright, publishing or seeking trademark protection.
Copyright gives the creator a right to display their work publicly. However, the fact that they chose to display their work to the public doesn’t mean that you’re justified in using it. It’s also important to understand that copyright only protects specific expressions of ideas and not general ideas. Usage of any work that is presented to the public must be fair which we will explain in the next paragraphs.
Before you rush to upload someone else’s photograph or graphics in your work, think about copyright. This doesn’t just apply to lawyers but individuals in every field. It’s easy to get in trouble when you use an image you simply don’t own whether by uploading it on your website or in the newsletter. It’s tempting especially if you really need a relevant image to enhance your copy.
Google image optimization and copyright rules
Google image search provides website owners with the convenience of accessing visuals to enhance the look and feel of their web pages. It’s very tempting to grab graphics you find on Google images and you probably think that you’re not going to get caught. If the copyright holder finds their content on anything you own, whether as your website banner or in your small email newsletter, you might find yourself in big trouble.
It’s equally important to make sure your website appears on Google image search by properly optimizing its pages. This can, in turn, generate relevant traffic to the website and boost rankings. With that said, let’s look at the copyright rules that you need to keep in mind when using internet images on your law firm website, newsletter or any other platform you own.
Why it’s easy to overlook copyright rules
To begin with, not all lawyers are well versed with copyright law. This is an area of law that’s elective in law school so it’s wrong to assume that all lawyers will be able to stay out of trouble when it comes to copyright matters. Additionally, understanding what qualifies as “fair use” is sometimes difficult even among those lawyers who understand IP rules. You may hire someone to come up with a newsletter on behalf of your law firm or even entrust other professionals to create your publications. These people may not know the rules.
Lawyers, on the other hand, may assume that the images that appear on their websites were acquired through legal meals. Some may appear to be stock photos which are obtained through a subscription service or free stock photos from reputable sites. Others may be thought to be in-house custom photos created by their graphics team. Sometimes this may not be the case. It’s always important to take time to find out whether the graphics on your website, newsletter or any publications you own, are properly acquired.
What qualifies as fair use?
There are several factors that are put into consideration when determining fair use.
– The purpose and character of the use e.g are you using the content for commercial reasons?
– The nature of the work that has been protected by copyright law
– The amount of work used in relation to the entire copyrighted work
– The effect of the use
Can you use this image?
If you have taken the picture yourself, purchased a license to use it or hired someone to get the photos for you, then you have a right to use it. You may also be allowed to use a picture if it’s already available for public use. There are images that can be obtained through a license but you must ensure you follow the terms of the license when using someone else’s work.
Are you using copyrighted work for commercial purposes?
Your law firm is considered a commercial enterprise. This means that even if you include copyrighted work in a newsletter that is educational, it may still be considered commercial use. With other types of content such as movies and songs, it’s easy to use only a small portion which will be considered fair use. With images, you can’t crop too much because it will lose its original appeal.
On the other hand, if you lower the resolution too much, the creator may file a claim against you for tampering with their reputation by changing the quality of their work. Another important thing to consider when using someone else’s work is providing credit and adding a direct link to the source/author. This can actually help but remember that even if you provide credit, you can still find yourself in trouble if you did not get the permission to use the work. Don’t simply assume that you will have qualified for fair use because you’ve given the creator credit.
How to stay away from trouble
Generally, you may not find yourself in trouble for sharing images that are created by a company to promote their work such as movie posters and official product images. You can also prevent legal claims when using people’s images by making sure you do your due diligence, give credit to the author and most importantly, comply if you’re requested to remove the content on your platforms.
The last thing you want as a lawyer or law firm is to get caught for stealing images on the web. This not only ruins your reputation but also risks ethical issues in your field. We handle image optimization and copyright very well, especially for our clients. We keep our clients out of trouble by using images and graphics that are properly acquired.