Ignoring the often-overlooked details of creative licensing can be a costly mistake for brands. Learn from these brands who found themselves in hot water with their relaxed approach towards licensing creative assets.

It isn’t easy for brands to navigate the world of copyrights and licensed content. Photographs, footage, illustrations, articles and music—all involve different types of licenses and permission processes. This can leave businesses unclear on what they can and cannot use in their marketing materials and campaigns.

Such was the case with home training system Peloton, which was recently in the news for a copyright issue related to the music in its videos. Several music publishing groups alleged that Peloton featured their music in workout videos without the appropriate synchronization (or sync) license. While Peloton does have licenses for some of the music it uses, the plaintiffs said it had let others expire. Importantly, Peloton has since stopped distributing and using any content that contains unlicensed creative assets.

Peloton’s not the only company that has found itself in hot water under similar circumstances. And music isn’t the only content protected under copyright. Take a look.


Netflix Stumbles with Influencer Video Content

One of the most recent instances of copyright infringement involves Netflix and the ill-fated Fyre Festival. Fyre Festival was a music event intended to be a luxury experience in the Bahamas, but it went belly-up before it even began. After the festival flopped in early 2017, Netflix produced a documentary about its sensational failure. The documentary included both behind-the-scenes footage and video content from some of the social media influencers who experienced Fyre firsthand.

One such attendee, an Instagram influencer named Clarissa Cardenas, is now suing Netflix and film producer Jerry Media for including a video she shot at the festival. According to reports, Cardenas registered the footage with the U.S. Copyright Office, and now maintains that Netflix and Jerry Media were not within their rights to use it without her permission. It’s a message that’s sure to resonate with brands that regularly incorporate influencer videos into their marketing campaigns. There’s no open season when it comes to third-party content.


Marc Jacobs in a Battle over Illustrations

Art may be subjective, but a few years ago artist Katie Thierjung and two private companies shared a common opinion about fashion designer Marc Jacobs’s new collection. They believed he had stolen some of their designs. Thierjung received an email from one of her Instagram followers pointing out the similarities between her work and a number of pins and patches produced and sold by Jacobs. In late 2017 she posted about the situation on Instagram, revealing that a legal battle was still underway.

This year, Jacobs was in the news once more for allegedly copying grunge band Nirvana’s logo for one of his t-shirt designs. Representatives for the famous but now-defunct band sued Jacobs for copyright infringement, putting the brand at the center of controversy all over again.


iHeartMedia’s Struggle with Editorial Visuals

Copyright doesn’t just apply to music and artwork, of course. In 2016, photographer Christopher Sadowski filed a law suit against iHeartMedia for unlawfully posting a photograph he had taken of rapper and actress Azealia Banks. Other publications used the photo previously, with proper credit and payment. But, iHeartMedia radio station WWPR-FM did not seek permission before putting the photo on its website, and the case went to court.

Not everyone obtains permission to use celebrity photos, presumably because there’s a common perception that images of high-profile public figures are always up for grabs. The fact that many of these photographs make their way to social media, where they’re viewed and shared by millions, can complicate ownership issues further. But as iHeartMedia learned the hard way, creative licenses apply to these just as they do to any other asset you may wish to use in your branded materials, digital advertising, and marketing campaigns.


Partner Well to Protect Your Brand

There are countless other stories of brands getting entangled in lawsuits for wrongful use of creative content. These are complicated waters. Even if your intentions are good, you’ve got to get a handle on the different types of licenses. You also need to understand how to apply licenses in order to ensure you’re using third-party content lawfully.

For example, when it comes to stock photography, there are two common types of licenses:

  • Royalty-free (RF), and
  • Rights-managed (RM)

These licenses work very differently. With rights-managed images, how and where you use them is more restricted. Sometimes you can only use an image in a certain geographic region, or for a specified length of time. Royalty-free images aren’t actually free (despite their name). But when you purchase one you’re free to use it however you’d like and in perpetuity, as long as you abide by the terms in your licensing agreement.

There are different types of royalty-free images (RF), too. At Shutterstock, our Standard License for RF images limits your ability to transfer the license and archive the content, among other things, while our Premier Licenses allow for much broader use.

So how can you be sure you’re following the rules, protecting the integrity of your brand, and avoiding a legal battle of your own? Choose a trusted partner that can help you select the right license and indemnification for your needs. This ensures you:

  • Don’t use an image outside the parameters of your license,
  • Don’t recreate an existing image that’s protected by copyright law,
  • And don’t use all or part of an image without permission, as when combining it with other content

The right content partner can help your brand mitigate the risk of litigation, a negative reputation, or worse. Before you incorporate creative materials into your brand or business’s content, be sure you’re well aware of the associated permissions. Take it from the aforementioned brands: it’s just not worth appropriating what isn’t rightfully yours.

Top image via Aris Suwanmalee


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