20 Apr 2016

Copyright doesn’t mean you have the right to copy

Jo Evans  – Senior Design Manager at Spreckley

We all love a freebie, and in this fast paced world of internet-accessible everything, it’s far too quick and easy to grab something you like and use it without thinking. For instance, you can search for an image with any key word and you will find multiple versions right there, on your screen, ripe for the picking! You can download something in the merest of flashes and upload it to Facebook, Twitter or any social media site without even breaking a sweat. We’ve all done it and it’s free – but only if it’s for your own personal use.

It’s a very different story of course, if you want to use that same photo or illustration in a corporate brochure or print on to a t-shirt that you then intend to sell. Well, of course it is! None of us wants someone else to use our hard work to promote a business for free and not get a slice of pie for the privilege. And so, the word “copyright” is conveniently added to my story. When you start to look into copyright law and read the pages of information written by lawyers (by the way, there is good reason it’s written that way), you can easily get a bit blinded by long words and confusing sentences that are very difficult to understand.

So, what do you do when you’re faced with copyright jargon soup and you start to glaze over, not being able to comprehend or even focus on the “small print”? Well, I will share with you once again the wise words of my dear old Grandmother (God rest her soul) and it’s another one of her simple rules that I live by: if you are in any doubt, then there is no doubt! My goodness she was good! It really is that straight forward though – DO NOT use anything for commercial purposes unless you KNOW you have the right to do so. It’s illegal and regarded as property theft. It carries a fine and possibly even a prison sentence. If you think I’m joking, think again! You can’t just grab a lovely image from Google and use it to promote your business. And, if you think you are going to get away with it, you won’t. Those interweb geeky people who live in your computer have ingenious ways of finding out these things and they will find you.

I’m using this as an example of course; copyright covers a lot more than just images. As a designer, I have to be careful when using client logos. I always need permission to use another company’s logo while following strict brand guidelines. Not just client logos – anyone’s brand has copyright attached to it. Back in 2012 I wanted to use an image of Tower Bridge in London with the Olympic rings logo which was hanging from it at the time. It was going to make a great impact on the front cover of a brochure I was designing for my client. I have to point out that this was an image freely available on a popular photo library site. There are a few of these sites and for a fee you can buy the right to download and use the images for pretty much anything. But because this particular image included someone else’s logo I thought I’d better check with the Olympic committee to see if they had any objections – they did! They didn’t want me using their logo to promote a company that had nothing to do with the Olympics. They had a point and I was very glad I checked. Even if I had taken the picture myself I still wouldn’t have been able to use it because it contained someone else’s branding.

We all have to abide by guides and rules for whatever reason from time-to-time and I’m not saying we have to like it. But every now and again you just have to comply and get your kicks somewhere else.