What Qualifies as Copyright Infringement?

Copyright issues

Are the recent copyright issues in the news pertinent to you?

By Doug Lineberry

Even the most well-intentioned use of another’s copyright-protected material may be subject to legal action and possible monetary damages. Several recent examples have come to light in the news highlighting this issue.

On June 2, 2020, music artist Don Henley asked Congress for changes to the 1988 Copyright Act, claiming the current enforcement mechanisms simply cannot keep pace with infringers. While Henley’s testimony focused on music and “big tech,” everyone needs to be mindful of using any creative work (aka intellectual property) on social media, websites, and marketing materials. Images, audio files, video files, literature, logos, etc. are only some of the creative works protected by copyright laws. If you use such works to help your business venture earn profit, you are likely committing copyright infringement, even if you attribute the song to its singer or author, image to the photographer, or article to the publisher.

Avoiding copyright infringement in your marketing efforts

The internet provides a fantastic medium for interacting with others, posting ideas, promoting business, networking, and remaining connected, even while remaining socially distanced. However, this silver-lining sometimes comes with a dark cloud, accidental infringement of others’ copyright materials. A simple “cut and paste” of an image you find particularly striking, an article that expresses a point you are trying to make, a snippet of music you think draws attention, or a slogan you think might help build your business can lead to dire consequences.

While it is a simple matter to obtain an image, sound file, piece of writing, etc., from the internet and use it, doing so may constitute copyright infringement. Please do not simply “cut, paste, forget” because the owner of the material is likely to “see, get upset, tell you to cease and desist,” or worse, file a lawsuit seeking damages, which can quickly cost tens of thousands of dollars to defend. Using purchased stock art, licenses from artists/authors, or simply obtaining written permission can help avoid copyright infringement.

Therefore, before adding someone else’s work to your website, advertising materials, publications, etc., confirm you can do so legally without risk of running afoul of copyright laws. A perfect example is American Idol® or The Voice®. When these shows have performers sing a song, they have previously secured the right to do so. Taking this precaution can help you and your business thrive while avoiding potentially costly infringement scenarios.

Quite simply, without a license or written permission, do not use any creative work you did not create because this constitutes copyright infringement.


Doug Lineberry is a partner at Burr & Forman LLP where he assists clients with protecting intellectual property through patent, trademark, and copyright prosecution, as well as intellectual property litigation. For more information email [email protected]