Graphic with yellow "C" and the word copyright in the middle of a white word collage consisting of words relating to Copyright

The Importance of Copyright in the Digital Age*

Stay on the right side of the law while promoting your agency

Let’s face it: producing content can get tiring. Whether it be written or visual, each project requires time and talent. When you’re running a business, every moment is precious. It can be tempting to grab assets wherever you can find them.

Be careful. 

While we exist in a copy-and-paste digital environment, copyright and copyright infringement have not gone away. In fact, with technologies like search robots and web-crawling spiders, it is now easier than ever to track down inappropriate uses of copyrighted material across the internet. Numerous people have received angry correspondence from giant corporations like Getty Images demanding that copyrighted material be taken down and for offenders to pay damages. 

While that can sound scary, you still need to promote and market your business. Start by brushing up on some of the basics of copyright in the digital age. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better positioned to help your business while staying on the right side of the law. 

What is Copyright Anyway?

Copyright protects creators from unlicensed actors taking original works and claiming them as their own. It covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and other intellectual works. Federal copyright begins as soon as a work is in “tangible form,”[i] which can include it being on “a hard drive, computer disc, film or tape.”[ii] 

Copyright is also automatically applied when a work is created, and creators are not required to declare their copyright for it to be in effect. Websites are also the copyrighted property of their respective owners, including “overall design, all links, original text, graphics, audio, video and any additional original elements.”[iii]

Alternatives to Infringement 

When it comes to copyright, the internet is a double-edged sword: it provides a glut of content, but creative works cannot be used without explicit permission. Providing a disclaimer like “No copyright intended” or merely giving credit to the original creator does not magically make it okay to use.

There are, however, other ways to utilize some of the excellent works that are floating around on the information superhighway. Those might look like: 

  • Ask permission: It may seem silly or overly simple, but often the best way to leverage online creative assets for your agency is to ask the original creator. It may not work, particularly if you are using the asset for financial or business purposes, but it also might. The fact is that exposure is everything these days. By reaching out directly to an artist or writer with a compelling offer, such as guaranteeing to credit them and provide their work with a platform, you might receive permission to use their copyrighted material for your business.  
  • Look for royalty-free work: While all creative works automatically carry copyright, there are specific materials that are designated as “royalty-free,” which makes them free for a third party to use. The trick is knowing where to look. The Associated Press, for instance, has a cache of royalty-free imagery, as does Getty Images. There are also lesser-known sources, such as Pexels
  • Fair use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material under highly specific circumstances. The use of copyrighted material is determined to be “fair use” depending on how it is interpreted through a four-point test. The four points include: 
    • The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is for a commercial nature or nonprofit, educational purpose;
    • The nature of the copyrighted work;
    • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

To learn more about fair use, consult the U.S. Copyright Office.

  • Public domain: Copyright infringement can, at times, feel onerous. Thankfully, copyright does not last forever. Currently, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the original author plus 70 additional years, while works made for hire enjoy copyright protection for 95 years following publication or 120 years following creation. You can find huge troves of public domain photos online, with this particular website being a great place to start. 
  • Creative Commons: One of the last ways that you access copyrighted works is through Creative Commons, which offers a variety of public licenses for creators to share their works. All licenses issued through Creative Commons stipulate that you credit the original creator, and some prohibit using their work for financial purposes. You can learn more about the specifics of Creative Commons by viewing its website.

Work Faster and Smarter

The internet made the world’s scholarly, scientific and artistic resources available to creators across the planet. But despite this accessibility, creative work remains protected by copyright, meaning that, as an agency owner, you still need to be mindful of the assets you’re leveraging for promotional content. The good news is that there are other methods for obtaining wonderful creative materials that can enhance your marketing work. From simply asking permission to utilizing the Creative Commons, it is still possible to use the internet and its inexhaustible content to work faster and smarter for both yourself and your agency. 

*This blog post is issued for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice.

[i] Copyright Protection on the Internet: Everything to Know (upcounsel.com)
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Ibid

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This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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