Here’s a true story about copyright: it shows how careful we all need to be. A hospitality company suddenly gets an email from ImageRights International, a US copyright agency, asking for £1,700.
The agency says it has found a picture of the interior of one of the hospitality company’s joints which has the famous Bowie image of him with a flash over his eye and with red hair. The Aladdin Sane picture of 1963. And, no, I am not going to include it in this blog because I don’t want to play the agency £1,700 for the rights of this Brian Duffy picture. But there is a photo of Bowie above which a photographer says is in the creative commons. I hope she is right.
Bowie image used to advertise joint
Visitors to the joint had their photo taken in front of the image which had been painted on a wall. The hospitality company used the photo on its own website to advertise the joint. This is what the agency saw: it checked its files and found no rights contract between them and the joint. Hence the email.
But the hospitality company had not painted the image: its agent, an interior design company, had. The interior designers liked the image, easily got a copy and up it went.
The joint’s owners paid up
The hospitality company knows the copyright law because we at ContentETC had done a session on it. But the interior designers did not. Yes, the hospitality company had to pay up.
The lessons of this story: do you and the staff of your agents know the copyright law and how easy it is to infringe it? Do you or they realise how long the arm of a copyright agency is?
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But, you may say: I can see hundreds of copies of that image and other by Duffy all across the internet. Not all of them can have paid royalties.
And you are right: lots of them didn’t. But then do you want to play Russian roulette with a US copyrights agency?