Do your due diligence before using someone else’s content online

The Financial Times reports on an interesting legal dispute between British luxury fashion house Burberry and the estate of actor Humphrey Bogart that highlights the copyright minefield businesses can be faced with on using images online.

Burberry used a still from the final scene of the film Casablanca, showing Bogart in his iconic trenchcoat, in a Facebook timeline depicting the evolution of Burberry’s products and culture. Bogart’s estate said the use was without its permission and, in any case, Bogart preferred the rival Aquascutum brand.

While the FT says the legal dispute has been settled, its report illustrates the rocky path for the unwary when it comes to using third-party content, whether that’s images or any other digital medium.

I think it’s surprising that this case of Burberry actually got to a lawsuit. Or perhaps it does also illustrate the pitfalls if you think an image is safe to use and haven’t rigorously checked that, in fact, it is. And, as the FT notes in its report, of all the pictures in all the world, why did Burberry have to upload that one?

The matter of permissions and copyright came up earlier this year regarding Pinterest, the poster-child for easy copy-and-paste that lets anyone share any content online, whether that’s legal or not.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes have scrambled to create a presence of some type on Pinterest.

But as the Burberry example shows, businesses cannot afford to do any less than conduct due diligence in rigorous permission-seeking from the owner of intellectual property they want to use – whether it’s images or any other content and wherever they plan to use it – to ensure they don’t find their communication efforts undermined by a lawsuit.

[Later Footnote] After I published this post, it occurred to me that I had come up against the very pitfall of which I wrote, about seeking permission to use someone else’s content before using it. I refer to the Bogart image I’d used, taken from the photo stream in the Humphrey Bogart Estate page on Facebook.

Had I fallen into an easy trap? Just because a photo or image is posted on Facebook, it means it’s ok to just use it?

I think I had. Slap-on-forehead moment. It may well be that it’s ok to use that image the way I did, linking back to it. But that does not make it ok without being certain, ie, seeking permission first. I hadn’t done that.

So, I’ve replaced that image with the one you now see above, one that is in the public domain.

A pity, really, as the one I first used was a really great Bogart pic. Not a valid reason to use it without permission, though.

Related post: