Copyright violations and accusations happen across industries. No one is immune, but songwriters – and freelancers – can be particularly vulnerable. Partly because it’s not always easy to know whether you came up with something or heard or saw it elsewhere.
One example – Ed Sheeran was sued by the writers of Amazing, which was sung by former X Factor winner, Matt Cardle in 2012.
Songwriters Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington claimed Ed’s song, Photograph, was similar to Amazing. The matter was settled privately for a mere £13.8 million!
For freelancers who aren’t at the income level of an international megastar, the settlements are usually a little lower, but being accused of copyright infringement is no picnic.
So how do you avoid these accusations in the first place, and if you’re faced with them, what are the next steps?
Avoiding accusations of copyright infringement
Accidental copyright violations often happen when freelancers use images, audio, or extracts of text without permission.
So it’s important to educate yourself on what is and isn’t allowed. For example, you can’t simply right click and use any image you choose from the internet. This would usually infringe on the photographer’s copyright.
So you need to either take your own images, use images provided by your client (where they have the correct permissions) or use images from stock libraries.
If you’re using stock images, whether paid for or from a free stock library, you need to check they’re licensed for commercial use. Some images are only licensed for editorial use, which means a newspaper or magazine can use them, but a standard commercial business can’t.
Keep a record of where you source your assets
When you use assets such as images, audio or text, keep a record of where you sourced them from and how you obtained permission to use them, if relevant. This means that if you’re accused of copyright infringement, you can easily respond to show that you have the correct permissions.
That’s a brief look at how you can protect yourself from accidentally infringing copyright, but what if you’re already facing a demand?
Don’t panic – not every demand is reasonable
There are companies set up specifically to send out threats and see who pays up. So remember that you may not need to pay anything. Take down the offending material immediately and look at whether the sum being demanded is reasonable.
If you had an image on your blog that’s visited by 3 people a year, then a demand for thousands of pounds isn’t likely to stand up to scrutiny. Whereas if you’ve used an image in a major ad campaign, a huge claim could be justified.
“You’ve copied our logo”
Here’s an example from a freelancer we helped at With Jack. Their client had been accused of potential copyright infringement by another company, over a logo this freelancer had designed some time ago.
Luckily, the freelancer had documented the entire logo design process – from ideas and concepts to mock-ups – and had saved all client communications. This meant the freelancer could demonstrate the logo had been designed over time, with input from their client, rather than ‘stolen’.
Legal fees came to £2,400 and a settlement was agreed. This settlement figure was lower than the policy excess, so the insurer helped the freelancer and claimant agree a sensible payment plan.
One of the biggest benefits to the freelancer of having professional indemnity insurance was in not having to deal with lawyers directly and to have some of the stress of the process taken off their hands.
Blog post image copyright infringement
In one case we handled, a freelancer had used an image on their blog post without the correct permissions. The insurer paid £1,297 to the copyright holder.
Headache-removal as standard
Even when the sums involved are small, compared with an Ed Sheeran-sized settlement, having an insurer behind you can make a big difference.
As well as cutting down on the stress of dealing with the problem yourself, it means that you’re less likely to be a victim of bullying by a bigger business. Often just knowing you have an insurer can be enough to make someone back down or drop their claim.
And if you are at fault, you have the benefit of knowing that your insurer is covering it. If you’re already a With Jack customer, remember to get in touch if you’re ever accused of copyright infringement. It’s what we’re here for.
And if you’re not insured but you’d like to be, you can get more information here.