“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.
Now, teams. There’s no reason you can’t ALL ‘forge ahead,’ much like you copied each other when you lost to the Patriots. https://t.co/s6ljyu0y6V
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) August 30, 2017
Want to learn more about intellectual property rights? Here are a few resources and tips to start:
- United States Code Title 17
- The Copyright Act of 1976
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
- The Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act of 2004
- The Intellectual Property Protection and Courts Amendments Act of 2004
- The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008
- The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act
- …but wait, there’s more!
- AIGA’s intellectual property resource section
- Take a course specializing in copyright, intellectual property, or media law.
- Hire a lawyer or actively work with your legal team. Ask them questions. Then ask more. If they’re upset you’re trying to better understand how their responsibilities interact with your responsibilities, get a new lawyer. Note: You know how you prefer to be included on a project from the start, rather than being filled in at the very end? Your legal team wants the same thing.
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.