Copyright infringement lawsuits keep popping up these days (see makeup blogger Michelle Phan's legal woes over using unlicensed music to score her tutorials). Maybe that's because on the Internet, most content, ideas, and art seem like fair game. But as a current lawsuit against Lionsgate and Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon shows, not all ideas are ripe for the picking.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, author Peter Gallagher alleges that Whedon lifted the premise and some character traits for the 2012 meta-horror movie The Cabin in the Woods from his 2006 self-published novel A Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines. The complaint states that both works…
- Feature a group of young people terrorized by supernatural creatures while staying in a cabin.
- Have a surprise twist that reveals the group was unknowingly part of a horror film.
- Have characters with similar names and personalities.
Gallagher is suing Joss Whedon, director Drew Goddard, Lionsgate, and Whedon's production company Mutant Enemy for $10 million in damages.
It just goes to show you: copyright infringement is a risk both heavy-hitting companies and small businesses face and need to learn to avoid.
Avoiding Copyright Infringement: Easier than Slaying Vampires
Sure, you may not be making million-dollar movies, but your business has copyright infringement risk if it…
- Publishes content on its social media pages, website, or marketing materials.
- Uses someone else's images, art, or ideas without permission.
Given the fast-paced nature of online and social media marketing, copyright infringement is a real threat. It can be too easy to see a photo you like and post it on your business's page without a second thought. However, those snap decisions can come back to haunt you if the creator sues you for infringing on their copyrighted work.
To avoid these risks, be sure to:
- Do your research. If you come up with a brilliant product name or idea, do your research before you go all in. You want to make sure that someone else hasn't already beaten you to the punch. If you don't have the time or know-how to do this research on your own, it may be wise to enlist an attorney's help.
- Check for copyright notices. If you're not sure whether the content you want to publish or repost is copyright protected, check the original source. If you can't find any information, err on the side of caution and don't post it.
- Get permission. If you must use an image or work that is copyright protected, get written consent from the copyright holder or license the work. Simply crediting the author for the work isn't enough.
- Know the limits of fair use. Fair use is the only reliable defense in a copyright claim. This refers to work that is published and distributed for the purpose of criticism, parody, teaching, or research. However, it's difficult to claim fair use when the work is being used in a commercial capacity. You can learn more about the fair use defense in the post "Fair Use and Copyright in Social Media Marketing."
- Carry advertising injury coverage. As a failsafe, make sure your General Liability Insurance offers this coverage, which can help pay for legal expenses when you're sued over copyright infringement.
For more risk management tips, stay current on our advertising injury blog series.