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Copyright Infringement: What Every Business Owner Should Know

As a business owner, you might look upon copy infringement as a sort of double-edged sword. First, you want to make sure that your own intellectual property rights are protected. Nonetheless, you have another concern. The last thing you need is to face a lawsuit based on allegations your company wronged someone else.

First, the nitty-gritty. Perhaps the best source of understanding what constitutes copyright infringement comes from the United States Copyright Office. According to their definition, “copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”

The formal definition might leave you puzzled. When it comes down to it, you have to secure permission to use copyrighted work. Of course, the reverse is true. Someone can’t just come in and reproduce your copyrighted photograph, musical piece, or written text.

Avoid Copyright Infringement

In a prior article, we shared a story about a lawsuit involving copyright infringement. The case involved an insect photographer who was tired of his work being used without permission. Although a Houston company claimed they unwittingly used the photographer’s images, the excuse was unacceptable.

Your first question might be how to avoid copyright infringement when it comes to using someone else’s pictures or photographs. For sure, the obvious solution is to connect with the copyright owner and request a release. No doubt you will have to pay a fee.

However, there are other ways to find images and use them without legal issues. For starters, you could do a Google Advanced Image Search. Your safest bet is to go to the last drop-down menu and limit your search to images that are “free to use, share or modify, even commercially.”

Meanwhile, you could also be guilty of copyright infringement if you “borrow” a video from somewhere else without permission. There’s also the chance that you might like a favorite song and decide to change the lyrics to advertise your business. When in doubt, put yourself in the place of the copyright owner. Imitation may not exactly be viewed as flattery.

Things can get complicated when it comes to differentiating between plagiarism and copyright infringement. In some cases, plagiarism deals with lifting pieces of work in the public domain. These are materials that are no longer fall under the copyright ownership rights of a particular author, photographer or musician.

For example, there’s a reason you don’t hear restaurant workers singing the traditional “Happy birthday” song to guests. Times have changed. A couple of years ago, the courts ruled that the song now qualified as part of the public domain. Therefore, using the melody and changing the lyrics might be plagiarism. However, singing the song is no longer an act of copyright infringement.

Have Concerns about Copyright Infringement?

The Law Offices of Manfred Sternberg and Associates has assisted many companies to understand the associated risks of copyright infringement. Contact us with any questions or concerns.  We look forward to helping you!

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