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How Fair Use Laws Affect Your Marketing Efforts

Fair use is a law that is egregiously abused, daily, by much of the internet. By definition, Fair Use outlines when it’s acceptable to use excerpts of copyrighted material. These special case scenarios include research, teaching, criticism, and news reporting. It’s that last one that throws the web for a loop – sites like Buzzfeed have manifested an extremely loose view of “news”, and as such, the internet is having a hay day with other people’s content.

Many companies are abusing fair use by incorporating copyrighted material into their content marketing efforts, often without a single thought that they might be abusing the system. Photos, music, and video snippets are used across platforms to promote causes other than those they were originally created for, and it’s made the notion of competition in the creative space insanely difficult.

How so? If sites like Buzzfeed can make millions (and they are) by scraping the internet, creating “Best of” lists, and labeling that news without paying a single penny of royalties to the original content creators, how is a smaller company supposed to play by the rules and still profit?

In truth, they can’t, and it’s sent the notion of fair use into the unfair stratosphere.

Why Fair Use Was Once a Great Idea

If you operate a blog or post any semblance of news articles on your site, fair use is your friend. It is supposed to encourage media professionals to spread the good word about content creators, without incurring a fee, which should create a win-win. If CNN tells the world about a new phone app, it makes sense that they could use the app’s images as part of the storytelling.

These days, however, photographers often don’t even get credit for a photo used on a news site, let alone a single dollar in royalties.

Take the top article on Buzzfeed’s site recently, literally called 30 Adorable Redditor Cats. Buzzfeed generates massive amounts of traffic to “news” articles such as these, which is simply content scooped from another site (in this case, Reddit), slapped with a headline, and thrown up as an official Buzzfeed content piece. They don’t even bother to add copy to most articles; it’s literally a list of someone else’s creative endeavors.

It’s An Automated World

Algorithms are the reason fair use is out of control. It’s now immensely easy for anyone to scape content from other sites, and then call it their own with minimal, if any, changes. Peter Wayner, author of the Wired article Algorithms are the New Content Creators, and That’s Bad for Humans explains the problem this way:

“The battle for fair use is unfair to anyone who plays by the old rules and tries to share with the artists because human creatives can’t compete with the automated services that aren’t sharing with the artists.”

This leaves marketers and content creators in a serious conundrum. But there is a solution.

How Your Business Can Play By the Rules and Still Benefit

As you create content for your business and need to access images and videos without paying an exorbitant fee, it’s hard to know how to proceed. Never fear, there is hope for a win-win resolution, and by the looks of it, it’s way past time to implement.

Buzzfeed has recently been hit with a $36 million dollar copyright infringement lawsuit proving that the world is definitely paying attention to the abuse of fair use. To combat this chaos, it’s going to take some revolutionary creators to generate a new model. Are you willing to be part of the solution?

Wayner writes in his article:

“What if the researchers at these companies could improve their bots enough for the algorithms to make intelligent decisions about fair use? If their systems can organize the web and drive cars, surely they are capable of shouldering some of the responsibility for making smart decisions about fair use.”

We know that bots and machines are here to stay. So what about using them so that everyone benefits? We humans define those algorithms, after all, so it is possible to stir things up.

Here is a possible example: imagine that there’s a photographer, totally in favor of allowing companies to use his images in return for the publicity – we could have access to that database of free-to-use content. Likewise, another photographer could say no, my images cost $50 per use. If his work speaks for itself and is in demand, the algorithms we write could track such things, leaving the second with a royalty check whenever images are used. As long as it wasn’t a mystery to businesses about associated costs, this model could in fact benefit all.

Right now, we live in a world of machines versus humans, and under that scenario, everyone loses. The free-for-all model has to change; it doesn’t support quality or longevity in the marketplace. As you create your content marketing and promotional materials, do your best to either pay for the creative materials you use, or at least prominently give credit to the artist you’re featuring. They deserve to be compensated for the creations you deem worthy enough to represent your company.

How closely do you follow fair use laws? Do you have ideas for solutions on creating balance in this space?

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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