Just Because You Can Steal Content Doesnt Mean You Should

You just finished preparing your first presentation for that big seminar at the annual meeting with the coolest pictures you could find on Google images and Flicker, the slickest YouTube videos and the hottest tracks from Pandora. You’re all set, right?

Not so fast, according to Gretchen Klebasko, associate general counsel and managing director of Intellectual Property at Legg Mason. While those sites offer a wealth of media for the asking, much of the material may be considered pirated if you use it. The legal problems begin with the difference between “free to view” versus “free to use.”

The Copyright Clearance Center’s overly wordy titled webinar: “Video, Music and Text, Oh My...Managing Copyright Compliance in a Multimedia World,” does a good job of explaining those differences in plain language. It also explains how to avoid the plethora of media materials that could get an individual or a company in legal hot water.

Klebasko has an impressive litigation background, but stuck with lay-language and delivered helpful information in a succinct presentation that doesn’t talk down to the participants. (Her full disclosure includes Legg Mason’s “wonderful working relationship with CCC.”)

Social Media Changed Everything


The “explosion of social media” and “sharing sites in corporate settings” is the source of much of the copyright compliance problems, she said. With a click of a mouse — or the touchpad equivalent — almost anything from books, CDs and movies can be shared globally within seconds.

“This trend completely changed our {intellectual property managers} approach to compliance” in corporate settings in which an employee’s apparently innocent “share” can result in a costly cease and desist letter for the company, she added.

Some of the sharing stats she shared:

  • Facebook: Every twenty minutes one million links and 70 billion pieces of content are shared
  • Twitter: 500 million tweets per day
  • Flickr: An average of 3,000 images uploaded per minute

“If your employees use Flickr, are you confident they are downloading rights-free images licensed for corporate use?” Klebasko asked.

Despite what many of us think in this age of incessant sharing, people who create “original works of authorship" — literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works ­— actually have rights. Under copyright laws in the US and other countries, you need permission from the copyright holder to reproduce, distribute, display or perform these works.

YouTube, Google Images and Pinterest are some of the other offenders, despite being known for legitimate content because of the wealth of pirated materials uploaded by not-so legitimate users.


Free-to-View vs. Free-to-Use

Klebasko spent some quality time during the presentation explaining possible ways to discern free-to-use content — including plugs for Creative Commons for photographs and Movie Clips for video links — along with other alternatives. She also listed ways that copyright compliance professionals might be able to determine the sources of questionable media, or “Enforcement Tools” they can use, such as TinEye and ImageRaider.

Above all, education of employees regarding copyrighted material and regular reinforcement of that education is stressed, in addition to establishing contracts with some picture and music licensing services and/or blocking some of the more egregious sites with non-compliance content.

Of particular note by the speaker are apps, which allow third-party content to be imported into presentations with no resources to determine the legality of the media use.

While the webinar was fairly thorough on the subject of employees’ use of social media websites and possible copyright infringements with in-house technology, it was notably lacking any mention of suggestions for how to resolve employee-owned devices (BYOD) in the workplace for similar compliance.

Title image by jerry dohnal  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.