I have fielded a few questions during presentations lately that have made me think this is something that we should be talking about. In this digital age, information may often be free, but intellectual property is not. There’s so much sharing on online platforms that the lines protecting intellectual property are sometimes trampled by the number of people crossing them.

Intellectual property law protects inventions, trade secrets and literary and artistic works from being copied and/or used without permission. The law also covers things like music, photography and even words, phrases and symbols.

Intellectual property laws are broken and disregarded every day. Two areas where I am seeing it pop up in the chamber industry are with music and photographs.

Since I am not a copyright attorney, I’ve called on an expert to help keep your chamber on the right side of the law. Claire Kalia is an attorney in Mountain View, CA. I met her while working on a project with the Mountain View Chamber. Her firm, Kalia Law P.C. specializes in providing high quality legal assistance to start ups and small business owners. One of her areas of expertise is intellectual property protection and she sees copyright infringement as a prolific problem.

Claire Kalia, Kalia Law P.C.

Claire Kalia, Kalia Law P.C.

“It happens all of the time,” she says. “You are taking a risk when you use something that is not yours.”

Using photographs found on the Internet is a very common example. Just because an image is downloadable and doesn’t have a watermark on it does not mean it’s free to use.

“On the Internet, unless it says it’s free, it is safer to license it,” says Claire. ”There are so many affordable options for that, especially if you are going to go to the trouble and expense of printing or distributing it on a wider scale, because the wider the distribution, the more the probability of it being found out.”

Even if your chamber is cautious, your members may not be. And believe it or not, that can get you into trouble. A chamber executive approached me at a conference recently with a problem I could see happening at any chamber. A member uploaded a flyer to the “member news” section of the chamber website. The flyer contained a photo that the member didn’t have a license to use. Because it was on the chamber’s website, the chamber was contacted to either remove the photo or incur a fine.

chamber of commerce marketingMusic is an issue too. As chambers are embracing video as a communications tool, it’s natural to want to add a little music to help support the tone of the story you are trying to tell. But
you need to seek out royalty free options. Purchasing a popular song off of iTunes or some other online music source doesn’t give you the license to use it in your videos. You need to seek out royalty free options if you want to add music to your videos.A

“You generally know when you are doing something wrong, if you are downloading something that someone else has clearly created for a commercial benefit for themselves and you are going to be using it for a commercial benefit, then that’s wrong,” says Claire. “It’s an unnecessary risk, when you have options that are royalty free.”

A Better Option

Here are some resources for affordable, royalty free photographs and music. My go-to royalty free photo provider is DepositPhotos.  You can purchase “pay as you go” credits upfront ($33 is the minimum) and use the credits to download photos, graphics and even stock video. If you’re using the photos for web-based communications (i.e. small files), you can get photos and graphics for around a dollar a piece. For royalty free music, Pond5 is an inexpensive provider. They also have photos and video. I find better selection on music though on Audio Jungle. NeoSounds is another great source for music. I appreciate their simplified licensing system.

What About “Fair Use?”

Some chambers assume that their non-profit status or the Fair Use Doctrine allows them to use copyrighted materials without permission. Don’t count on it. Fair Use is a narrow loophole covering usage for commentary and criticism, nonprofit educational purposes, or parody.

As an organization that promotes business and accepts sponsorship dollars and membership fees, falling under Fair Use for your promotional videos could be a very tough sell in court.

As a chamber, following the rules sets a good example for your members, and may even help educate them on what they are doing wrong. Bottom line, if you didn’t create it, pay someone else to create it for you, purchase a license to use it or otherwise gain written permission to use it…it’s not yours to use.