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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Copyright Conundrums

We had a great conversation about copyright, among other things, last night at the Golden Ears Writers Lobby Night with an enthusiastic audience and some great questions.

A good resource that I did not put on my handout was the Canadian Copyrights Database. The Canadian Copyrights Database includes all copyrights that have been registered since October 1, 1991. Some copyright registrations prior to 1991 may be included in the database. The website also has a lot of good information about copyright and trademarks.

An audience member asked if I knew of cases where people had been hit with legal action for using images without asking permission. Here are two examples. One is author Roni Loren. She had used images on her blog thinking she could use the images under fair use. She was not thinking of her blog as commercial because she does not directly make money from her site. However, she uses it to promote her work as a writer so in the eyes of the law is not that different from an ad in a newspaper. You can read more about her experience on her blog. Another story making the rounds is the nice cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel’s Properties that author Patrick Wensink received in regards to the cover for his book, Broken Piano For President. His cover art too closely resembled the Jack Daniel’s label and infringed on their trademark.

Another article I ran across was this post on rethinkinglearning regarding Getty Images. Getty Images uses the software PicScout to look for sites that are using any of their images illegally. If they find any of their images they will send a cease and desist letter and demand payment retroactively.

One of the questions asked was what to do when you cannot determine copyright for an image?
I noticed how this problem was handled in 100 Days That Changed Canada published by Canada’s National History Society and HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

“Every effort has been made to contact rightsholders of copyrighted material. In the case of an inadvertent error or commission, please contact the publisher.”

How this would hold up in a court is another question but clearly they have kept track of their efforts to determine who holds the copyright for the images that they have used in the book.

As authors, artists, and so forth we need to protect ourselves and respect the rights of other artists. As a historian I appreciate it when other historians leave me a breadcrumb trail for their sources.

*This post is not intended as legal advice. This is just my experiences working as an author, editor, and designer; when in doubt talk to a copyright lawyer.

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