Outlaws in the New Frontier

When is the last time you Googled for a cute or engaging image to use to encourage engagement on your business’s Facebook or Twitter accounts? Have you created a video or Flipagram lately and added an awesome song to set the mood and convey the right message? How about that darling GIF of the kitten just “Hanging In There”……. Odds are, if you have done these things without some serious preplanning and research, you have done something illegal. Whooahhh, there “Outlaw” settle down for a minute and let us explain.

Let’s start at the beginning. We are all so very used to finding things on the internet that we want to share and pass along to others that we don’t think twice about it - click, save image, copy, paste, done. On our personal Social Media sites this may be just fine because we aren’t making any money by using the image. Once we take these same actions for our small business however, it’s a different story. Images were taken by someone. Whether a photographer set the scene and paid the adorable kitten’s owner in the earlier mentioned scenario or an amateur caught the perfect light coming across a beautiful vista, or snapped the photo at just the perfect moment to see the fireworks explode lighting up the American Flag in the foreground…… no matter which of these is true, that person owns that image and he or she very well may have it licensed for only certain uses. There is a small warning when you look at the Google search that informs you images may be subject to copyright, but it isn’t always easy to tell which ones ARE and which ones ARE NOT…. The ones with a watermark or some other mark of ownership are pretty clear so you think the ones that DON’T have these must be fine, right? Not necessarily. A good rule of thumb if you are using Google to search for images is to specifically filter them by license. On the Google search page, click on the tab that says images, then click on the tab that says search tools. From this screen you will see some very cool options but one of the filters is “usage rights”. By default, “Not Filtered by License” is selected so if you choose one of the other options, it will show you only images that are clearly marked and available for reuse both commercially or by individuals. The same principle applies to GIFs. You can certainly search the royalty free sites hoping to find things published under a Creative Commons License. These items are intended to be used and shared without any expectation of financial reimbursement. You can research some of the subtleties within this topic and there are some sites that allow you to donate to the creator for using his or her image but generally the license doesn’t mandate it.

Speaking of Creative Commons Licenses, the same idea about images also applies to music. You know the commercials on television that use this summer’s “it song” to advertise soda or a certain car? Well that company has paid for the privilege. Most people realize this when it comes to advertising on TV or radio but don’t think about it so much when it comes to the Internet. Mainly small business owners or sole proprietors who are representing their businesses on Social Media through the same mindset they use for their personal accounts are the unknowing offenders. It’s imperative that you research the usage and licensing of any music you plan to use in conjunction with promoting a business. There are some sites that list music published under the Creative Commons license (such as: http://creativecommons.org/legalmusicforvideos ) where you can search for music that is available to be used without license or royalty concerns.

So, have YOU been an “Outlaw” in the new Wild West of the Internet? If so, we highly encourage you to change you ways and be glad you didn’t have to learn these licensing lessons the hard or at least expensive way!

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