As you’re putting the finishing touches on your training materials, you hunt around online and find the perfect video, image or quote to insert. You’re tempted to grab it and insert it – it’s there online for the taking, right? You can’t get in much trouble, can you?
An attorney who specializes in intellectual property tells us that the wisest advice is, “Don’t do it.” Even in an age when the Internet is chock full of available content, the only safe way to use it is to contact the individual or organization that created it and get written (or emailed) prior permission.
Here are some reasons you can get into trouble by using content without getting written permission.
A Link Back to the Source of the Content Doesn’t Constitute Permission
In the current “wild west” climate that the Internet has created, it has become common practice for people to snag anything they like and then provide a hyperlink back to its source. The underlying thinking seems to be, “If I link back to the source, I’m protected.” Even though lots of people are doing it, it is risky; the creator of the content could contact you to demand a fee for use or threaten you with legal action.
Any Picture You Snag and Use Could Be Copyrighted
Owners of copyrighted images can now use online tools like tineye.com to search the internet and find websites and blogs where their photos have been used without permission. So rather than using photos you find anywhere online, subscribe to an online photo bank like 123rf.com and pay for the photos that you download and use. It costs money, but it’s great to know you are protected from legal problems later on.
Fair Use Laws Are Complicated and Don’t Offer Ironclad Protection
People often think that if they use only a small chunk of a copyrighted document, they are protected by fair use laws. The users might be protected, but those laws are complicated. Borrowing only a few paragraphs of a book and giving full attribution sounds like a safe course, but it might not be. Also, claiming that you are borrowing content for “non-commercial use” is not a protection either. If you were teaching a college course and wanted to include a quote from a book in your course materials, that might be considered “non-commercial use.” But claiming that using borrowed material in training materials – even in materials that you use only in-house – is “non-commercial” could be a hard argument to make.
To Learn More About Protecting Yourself from Copyright Infraction
For an in-depth exploration of the risks of violating copyrights, read “What are the Legal Challenges with Intellectual Property,” a blog post that Steve Cohen published on the ATD blog on January 28, 2016. It’s excellent and does a great job of explaining the risks of violating intellectual property rights.
Cohen’s most important piece of advice? Always ask for permission. It is the safest approach and more often than not, permission is not difficult to obtain.