10 copyright myths you should NEVER believe
Copyright in digital products is a bit of a minefield. There is so much conflicting advice about copyright available that it can be difficult to know what to believe. Read on to find the 10 most common copyright myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.
In my previous article I wrote about copyright and trademark abuse in digital downloads and the ongoing problem of designers being duped into purchasing copyrighted graphics that they then unlawfully use in their designs.
I’ve been a card making printable designer since 2009, but it’s only really been in the past couple of years that I’ve noticed such flagrant and alarming abuse of copyright laws in digital products.
In my experience, the majority of designers obey copyright laws and carefully research their graphics providers before purchasing any designer resources. However, it’s the small selection of people who don’t do this, and who use copyrighted, trademarked or counterfeited graphics in their designs that tarnish the reputation of the rest of us.
The scary thing is, much of the time these designers try to justify using Disney characters (or other copyrighted characters/artwork) in their designs. Somehow, they’ve managed to convince themselves that it’s okay. Sheesh. Not good.
Every time I hear someone try and justify their use of character graphics, it makes me feel a little bit sad inside. Please don’t fall prey to these foolish and inaccurate copyright myths. If you do, it could end up costing you a whole lot of stress, time and MONEY when you get caught out.
To help you stay on the right side of the copyright track, I’ve put together a list of completely-and-utterly-WRONG statements that I’ve heard people say all too often – plus why they shouldn’t be believed.
Copyright, licensing & trademarks… character graphic myths DEBUNKED!
Myth #1: I’ve paid money for these graphics so it’s okay to use them.
Hey, that’s your decision to make. However, isn’t it better to chalk this up to experience and take the hit on the few pounds you have spent on the graphics rather than use them and end up getting sued for £thousands?
No, it doesn’t. They don’t own the original copyright so they can’t give you permission to use those graphics.
Just like you can’t make DVD copies of your favourite film and sell the discs online, you also can’t copy pre-existing characters and sell the graphics. They are selling the graphics illegally. Even if they tell you they’re not.
Myth #3: Other people do it all the time and they haven’t been caught, so I won’t get caught either!
Would you shoplift because your mate did it and never got caught? No, you wouldn’t.
Just because someone else is using character graphics doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to do it.
Myth #4: If it was really illegal, Etsy/eBay/etc. would take the products down
This is a huge problem in digital marketplace websites and a huge frustration to designers who fully comply with all copyright laws and never use illegal graphics.
You would have thought that websites like Etsy would take a stand against copyrighted material being sold through their platform, but unfortunately they don’t seem to want to make it a priority.
Most marketplace websites make sellers agree to terms and conditions that explicitly state that they (the seller) are personally responsible for any copyright issues that may arise with their products. So, if Disney decided to come down hard against all the sellers who have abused their copyright, it’s those sellers directly that would get in trouble – not the marketplace website.
Personally, I think that’s wrong, and the marketplace websites should be actively banning people from breaking copyright in their products. But I guess that doesn’t make good business sense for them. After all, they get a percentage of all sales.
Myth #5: Disney/Pixar/Universal/etc. aren’t going to care about me as I don’t make much money from my products.
It doesn’t matter how small you think your money-making enterprise is – that’s no guarantee that you won’t be found and prosecuted.
Disney once threatened to take three children’s nurseries to court just because they had painted Disney characters on their walls.
If they take that extreme action just for some paintings, how do you think they would feel about you actually making money from their copyrighted works?
Myth #6: The seller has said that the graphics are for personal use only, so I can use them in my designs.
Um… no. Think about that for a second. They have said they are for PERSONAL use which means you CANNOT use them for commercial gain. You can’t use ANY graphics that state ‘personal use’ on printable products that you then go on to sell, share, or otherwise give away.
Myth #7: The seller included a disclaimer stating that the graphics aren’t official licensed products. That makes them exempt from copyright infringement.
No, it doesn’t. Re-drawing characters does not give someone the right to sell them, and it especially doesn’t let them sell those graphics with commercial use granted to the buyer.
Myth #8: It’s fine to use graphics that don’t look exactly like the ‘real’ characters.
No, it’s not! If you look at the graphics and can instantly recognise the original character, that’s NOT okay and you shouldn’t buy them.
This includes ‘cutesy’ clipart style version of characters, character silhouettes and otherwise stylised or altered homages to the copyrighted work.
Myth #9: These graphics have been hand drawn. That means there are no copyright issues.
See the answer to the previous myth. I can’t build a car in my garage and sell it as a Ferrari or write my own short story and publish it as a ‘Harry Potter’. It’s the same thing.
Myth #10: I’ve been using character graphics for ages. They sell well, my customers love them and I’ve not got in trouble, so I’m going to continue.
I hear this statement fairly regularly and it makes me sad.
Just because you haven’t been caught yet, doesn’t mean you never will be. Every sale you make from using copyrighted works gives the copyright holder a bigger case to use against you.
I absolutely cannot tell you how to run your business (and I wouldn’t want to try), all I can do is gently suggest that you give some serious consideration to removing your products that feature copyrighted works. Sacrificing a few sales now might save you a whole lot of pain, stress and money in the future.
When it comes to copyright, play it safe – not sorry
I hope that this article has helped to debunk some of the copyright myths that too many people seem to be believing. Copyright abuse is a real problem in the digital download market and unfortunately it probably always will be.
If you know of any other copyright myths that haven’t been covered on this page, please leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the list.
Please share this article if it’s been useful to you. Together, we can try to put a stop to copyright infringement and abuse in the digital download market.
Disclaimer: I am neither a lawyer nor a copyright specialist. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice. It is up to you to ensure any graphics that you purchase and use, whether personally or commercially, are fully compliant with copyright laws. If in doubt, consult a copyright lawyer or solicitor. Neither I nor my company hold any responsibility for (and are not liable for) any copyright issues that you may encounter.
If you believe any of the information in this article to be incorrect, outdated or misleading, please get in touch with your concerns.