4 Tips For Avoiding Copyright Infringement

4 Tips For Avoiding Copyright Infringement

Let's say you're walking through your neighborhood on the way to a friend's house. It's her birthday, but you haven't had a chance to pick up a cake or presents. (It's not that you forgot - It's just that Netflix dropped the newest season of Orange is the New Black one day early, and, well, things came up.) 

You're coming up with an apology when you walk past an open window where a pie is cooling off. It smells so good, and you know it would make your friend's birthday so special. You look to your left and then to your right. You reach up into the window and make sure the pie pan isn't too hot. It's just warm enough to lift it off of its perch. "Oh, it's nothing," you rehearse to yourself as you grab the pie and run. "It's a family recipe. My grandmother brought it over with her from the old country. Did you know that the crust takes six hours to make?"

In reality, you probably would never take a dessert out of someone's window and then pretend like you made it to impress a friend. But, would you use an image that you didn't create in order to make an impress your blog followers? Copyright infringement can feel like a grey area in today's world of digital and visual marketing, but here are some strategies to help you get a fair piece of the pie.

What Is Copyright? 

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright is "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works." So, that cute kitten picture you're about to pull from Google and use in that PowerPoint? Someone else should get the credit for it, because the government protects their role as a creator. Richard Eaves at Steamfeed breaks it down a little bit more and writes:

"Any individual or group of individuals who designs and/or creates any kind of original work automatically has inherent copyrights to them as soon as they’re created, whether completed or not, published or unpublished, or even if they haven’t been registered with the Copyright Office. You have to assume that everything you come across online is protected."

So, yes, that kitten picture might belong on your presentation, but there are other options and considerations available to you as you try to avoid copyright infringement (which comes with its own set of repercussions). Here are Geek Chicago's four favorite strategies for avoiding copyright infringement.

1. Create Your Own Images

Okay, so this is an obvious one, but we're firm believers in the "teach a man to fish" adage. By learning how to use software like Photoshop, you can build a portfolio, decrease the work you have to contract out, meet a wider range of client needs, and ensure that you are not breaking the law. It's worth the investment. To get started, you might want to check out's accessible online tutorials. 

2. Use the Creative Commons

The Creative Commons is great a way to begin your search for free images. You can select to search for images that can be used commercially from a variety of sources, including flickr and Google. You can also find images that you can adapt or build upon (after you learn how to use Photoshop!). 

3. Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Familiarize yourself with attribution and "fair use." While there are lots of sites that will tell you that attribution is good enough, asserts, "Attribution actually has nothing to do with copyright law – it helps you avoid an allegation of plagiarism, but you are infringing an author’s copyright by displaying her work."

So, what's a content producer to do? Get permissions and provide sources. While "fair use" provides "limited use of a copyrighted work for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research," marketing and other typical business practices do not fall into this category. Stay on the safe side of things and reach out to the original producer. If they give you permission to use their work, make sure you give them credit with a proper attribution.

4. Get Out Your Wallet

There's another bumper sticker adage that we like here at Geek: "Artwork is work." That being said, the "original work" mentioned earlier in this article might be available for a price. If you're willing to pay for images, there are plenty of stellar websites with subscription offers. A few that we like are Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and Adobe's Fotolia

With so many images and intellectual properties available online, it can be easy and tempting to utilize someone else's work without following protocol. Fortunately, by educating yourself and using the treasure trove of free resources also found online, you can help support the digital ecosystem of creativity.


Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).