Intellectual Freedom

By Posted in - AIGA & Broadcasting & Graphic Design & This Thing Called Life & Web Desgin on September 4th, 2017 0 Comments Intellectual Freedom

“We don’t have the licensing to use those assets.”

“Ugh, why does this have to be so difficult?”

It’s a conversation I repeatedly hear variations of, especially from friends and colleagues who work in marketing. I can understand where the sentiment comes from: Life would be easier and cheaper if one could simply use any top-40 song for a commercial or tagline for a marketing campaign without fear of lawsuit. But we don’t live in world like that (or, those of us in the U.S. don’t). Frequently, legal departments become the dreaded enforcer/fun sucker in these situations and have poor relationships with marketing teams for merely doing their job. It reminds me of a conversation I frequently heard several years ago:

“Where’s your grid?”

“Ugh, I hate using grids–they’re restrictive and inhibit my creativity!”


When my college professors first introduced my classmates and I to grid-based design, they told us we would probably find it restrictive at first, but would ultimately realize it provides freedom. Despite our disbelief, they were right.

In the same way, intellectual property rights can appear to be restrictive. We can’t use whatever we want without consequences. Different licenses are needed to play a song at an event vs. synced to content vs. used in a video on social media. Parodies are difficult to do correctly while the ad hoc nature of fair use creates uncertainty.

However, copyright laws were originally written to encourage creativity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship.

As with grids, when you learn the nuances of intellectual property rights, you find freedom. Knowing you have the budget to purchase one license of a song helps to strategically plan a campaign’s elements and the platform they will live on. Having the foundation to know your tagline is cleared and copyrighted by your organization removes the fear that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary will savagely burn your company on Twitter. Your legal team can be your worst enemy, or your best friend. I chose the latter.


Want to learn more about intellectual property rights? Here are a few resources and tips to start:


Specifically for students:

  • In your class projects, pretend you don’t have educational fair use protection and make it a priority to only use resources that are royalty-free, in the public domain, or for which you purchase a license. It will be harder to find what you want–especially if you have a limited budget–but it is a great exercise that will build you a stockpile of resources. I did this in college and it has been a tremendous help.
  • If your program doesn’t offer classes on intellectual property, ask your professors to create them.
  • If that’s not possible, ask your professors to give some lectures on it.
  • Note: No class can teach you everything you will ever need to know about the subject. At best, if will give you an understanding of the foundation of this area of law, the precedent-setting cases, and how to keep up with case-law after the class ends. One or two 50-minute lectures will not provide this.
  • If your program does offer classes on intellectual property: ask questions, don’t skip class, ask questions, pay attention, ask questions, do the class reading, ask questions, take notes like your career depends upon it, ask questions, ask questions, and ask questions.

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