Would You Rather Ask for Permission or Forgiveness?

I’ve heard many people say that asking forgiveness is much easier than asking permission but sometimes the ramifications of such actions are not worth the trouble. For instance, when it comes to copyright infringement, the penalties of such actions can be far worse than you realize.

Due to the fact that it’s easy to find whatever you need online, whether it’s information, photography or artwork, it could be viewed as freeware and can be tempting to use without permission – especially for those who are looking to save time or money. Unfortunately, copying, grabbing and using online property, for your own advertising needs, could cost you more in the long run.

Ignorance May Not Be So Bliss

Sometimes this “borrowing” of intellectual property can be done quite innocently. A marketing executive for a large company once approved an ad with a concept that he believed was a part of the public domain. The ad depicted a sketch, not a photograph, of a star on a sidewalk, which mimicked the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Immediately after the ad ran in a newspaper, a representative from the company that owned the license to the Hollywood Walk of Fame contacted the executive. Since he no longer was in a position to negotiate usage and rates, he had to pay the high penalty that the licensor requested.

How To Know If It’s Licensed

Students and experienced designers have asked me how they can know if the property has restricted rights and usage attached to it. My answer, “If you’re not certain, always ask permission from the origin of the property.” If you purchased the photograph from a stock photography company, they will inform you of any additional rights, usage and restrictions. If you would like to use a poem or a quote that you read in a blog, it’s a good idea to ask permission from the author before you use it on any public material. If you like a certain illustrator’s style, they may be willing to negotiate with you for services or a special price, especially for work that has not been published.

One of my past clients insisted on using photographs of employees from the US Postal Service in one of his direct mail brochures. I explained to him that the employees depicted in the photographs had not signed any agreement or release with his company allowing him to use their image. For all we knew, the person who designed the brochure could have used stock photography or taken the photographs, using models. I warned him of the ramifications of using property of unknown origin. Unfortunately, you cannot force a person to follow your advise, but it’s a good idea to put your objection in writing, just in case you need proof that you were not the cause of the infringement.

Most celebrities, cartoon characters and comic book heroes are considered intellectual property and their usage needs to be negotiated and contracted. However, other icons that aren’t as obvious, such as the Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame, are considered licensed property. Aside from licensed or rights-managed property, you’ll be surprised how many people will allow you to use their creative property for free, asking only for a credit line for the author, artist or photographer. We all like and deserve credit for the work we produce.

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