BEWARE: Copying Photos or Artwork is Not Allowed

We all get emails from friends and sometimes they will contain pictures of cuddly animals or beautiful landscapes. Some will have cute drawings and captions. We pass them around to other friends. We also see them on Facebook – an ever-growing favorite way to share our life’s news and views. It’s very easy to “share” those items on friends and family Facebook pages.

When it comes to the business world however, all that “sharing” is a no-no. If you didn’t take the picture yourself or pay for it, you don’t own it or the rights to use it. The same thing goes for artwork. Artwork—in any form—such as drawings, sketches, cartoons, paintings, sculptures, and yes, photographs, are personal property. So are literary, musical, dramatic and other intellectual works that appear on the web, in books, magazines, CDs, movies, etc. You can’t take a picture of a sculpture and try to sell the photo without permission of the sculptor. (And this includes artwork on public properties!) You can’t even use a photo that someone else produced and turn it into a painting…without the owner’s consent. The same goes for creating a derivative of a photo, such as using digitally enhanced parts of an image.

Copyright Symbol

Have you ever noticed that pictures hanging on the walls of homes shown in home-improvement shows have been blurred out? That’s probably because their budget is low and they don’t have permission to show those pictures. On the other hand, if you DO see artwork in a movie or TV show, the production company has probably purchased the right to use it or had it made specifically for that film.

The theory to remember is: If you are going to profit from using someone else’s artwork, you have to get permission or pay for the rights. A good example might be if you wanted to put a picture on your new product label—you either need to take the picture yourself or get written permission to use it. Furthermore, if that photo was taken of somebody, you also have to get written consent from that person to use their likeness.

This is only fair. Put yourself in the artists’ shoes…the people who created that artwork put their own time and efforts into crafting it and they shouldn’t be copied. That’s what is called THEFT!

What we are talking about is called copyright protection. Just like trade names that are protected by copyright laws, artwork is also protected. Many artists who put their work online or allow it to be published will put a copyright symbol along with their name and the year the piece was created next to the image. For even more protection, they will apply to the US Library of Congress Copyright Office to get the artwork registered.

So you ask – what about all that “FREE” clipart that’s out there? Some of that is indeed free for public use, but more and more clipart will have what are called “watermarks” that indicate someone specifically created that artwork and you need to get permission to use it. You have to contact the drawing’s owner and will probably have to pay some sort of fee.

A better way to get clipart is to buy clipart CD collections or use Microsoft Word artwork that is royalty free. Try to look for photos or clipart marked “royalty free.” This means you can buy the right to use the images wherever you want, as many times as you want for personal, educational or non-profit use; this is much better than buying the right to use it only once for a specific project. Otherwise—make your own!

With photographs and other types of artwork, the US copyright law goes into effect immediately – with or without a registration mark. Even if an artist sells their artwork, they own the copyright to it. The buyer cannot make prints or sell copies of it without written permission. Any artwork made through the end of 1977 was given copyright protection for 95 years after it was first produced. More recent creative works fall under the rule that they won’t go into public domain for 70 years after the death of the owner; the family or legal heirs of the deceased artist own the artwork until then. Should it be learned that someone wrongfully used those images, they could face civil charges up to $150,000 and possibly even criminal charges.

So let us give you a few examples of possible artwork infringements:

• EIM uses photos of label printers and scanners on our website. Before we are given access to pictures and other marketing materials, we are asked to accept the terms of use supplied by the manufacturers. If we stop selling their products, we are no longer allowed to use those pictures. Another example would be if EIM wanted to use a Coca-Cola® bottle in one of our pictures, we would have to get approval from The Coca-Cola Company. And note, it is not enough to give credit to a picture’s owner or a company’s brand; you have to get written permission!

• EIM has graphic artists on our staff.  When they create designs for us— the employer—we own their work, not the employee. On the other hand, if they are simply adapting artwork you supply to us to make it fit on your label, you—the customer—remain the owner.

• A customer wants EIM to print the UL Logo (artwork) on their labels. EIM is a registered printer of the UL mark, but must follow UL artwork specifications and request signed UL drawings from customers for certain types of UL labels. Unless you are registered to print your own UL Marks, you have to use a printer like EIM to make them for you.

• Someone wants to create a Mona Lisa-like cartoon sketch for their product label on Mama Loco hot sauce. It is supposed to be a parody on the original painting and catch attention. This work is acceptable both as a parody and the fact that the Mona Lisa was painted prior to copyright laws. On the other hand, the song “Mona Lisa” by Tony Bennett does have a copyright since he wrote it, performed it and made it famous.

In summary, do not make any assumptions about using artwork you didn’t produce yourself. It pays to look at all legal aspects of artwork ownership and preferably err on the side of caution.

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Electronic Imaging Materials