My Dad Meets Copyright Law

I know I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to copyright law. I’ve taken classes on the subject, kept up with the latest news and even sent out a DMCA takedown notice of my own. I have a vested interest in making sure that my own copyrights are enforced, and I get downright twitchy when someone even thinks about infringing on something I’ve written.

You can imagine how my copyright-loving self responded when my dad called me up last night, asking me if I could help him break copyright law. Of course, he didn’t know that was what he was asking — but we both got an education. He now knows far more about copyright law than he ever wanted to and I got a crash course in just how little most people actually understand about the topic.

Dad bought a piece of stock illustration off of a website he’s used in the past. He likes slapping stock photography into whatever brochure or sales piece he’s working on at the moment, and that’s just fine with the terms of use he agrees to every time he downloads another image. But Dad found a piece that he really liked, but he wanted to change just a little bit and then place on t-shirts. Well, most stock sites forbid both changing their images or turning a profit on them.

My dad didn’t even know that he wanted to create a derivative work, let alone that licensing an image for use in a brochure doesn’t give you the legal right to slap it on a shirt and start raking in the dough. You’ll find that’s true all over: the folks that want to copy your article in its entirety on to their blogs aren’t always aware that they can’t do that. Many just like the piece and want to share it with their friends.

All of this means that it’s up to you, as a freelancer, to have a really good grasp of your rights and limitations under copyright law. You don’t just have to protect your work — you’ll probably find yourself educating well-intentioned individuals on just what they can do with your work.

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