You’ve Got to Come Original*

Copyright and fair use in original work

*Source: Title of song from the band 311

No matter the profession, it can be difficult to dream up an original idea. We are all so influenced by everything around us that we forget: Have we seen that before? Have we heard that before?

But putting out ideas as your own in the PR space, be they creative designs, a tagline or even narrative, comes with the unfortunate task of making sure it’s truly yours. Copyright could be your worst enemy, but fair use might have your back.

As a reminder, copyright protects creative works and ideas. As The Professional Communicator’s Guide to Copyright Compliance and Fair Use from Cision U.S. says, the point of copyright is to protect original expression. But don’t think of it as an iron curtain; there are ways to share and talk about copyrighted content if you apply certain standards in doing so.

Fair use is communicators’ tool for working around copyright within certain parameters, and with the best of intentions. The threshold here is to make sure that, by using the content, you aren’t taking dollars out of the author’s or artist’s hands.

So how are we to survive in our industry with so many potential copyright landmines out there? By getting smart about how to use content already created, and keeping up with the law.

Recently, YouTube announced it would financially support four content creators who had been threatened with takedown notices. Owned by Google, YouTube is offering up to $1 million in legal fees for these entities, with the defense being “fair use.”

We can’t all count on YouTube to come to our aid. After all, YouTube had skin in the game described above: If people are too intimidated to post material, YouTube’s business model doesn’t really work.

In addition, much of what we publish or promote is in print. So it’s important to stay on good terms with copyright by:

  1. Knowing the universe around the visuals or content you want to use.
  2. Watching videos and reading content online about where the lines are drawn.
  3. Being vigilant in researching similar products so you can feel confident that your expression of ideas won’t be challenged by an entity claiming that you “sampled” theirs.