Legal terminology and the importance of copyright
These are the areas of law that determine whether my service can license content:
- Rights of privacy / right of publicity
- Trademark / trade dress
- Creative Commons
- Below is a breakdown of what each one entails.
Right of privacy and right of publicity
Right of privacy means exactly what it says: It’s a person’s right to be left alone. This is a fundamental right in countries around the world, although the laws protecting it may differ. Similarly, the right of publicity ensures that a person has the right to control the commercial use of their name and likeness.
In licensing stock, right of privacy and right of publicity mean that you must have permission in the form of a signed model release for any recognizable person. Where applicable, you also need a signed property release from the owner of private property appearing in your content. When in doubt, obtain a model or property release that allows for the commercial use of an identifiable person, place, or object appearing in your content. For more information, see model release
Trademarks and trade dress
A trademark is a set of words, a logo, or a symbol that can identify a company, brand, or products and services. Trade dress is a type of trademark that generally refers to the appearance or design of the packaging or the product itself.
Trade dress can include a distinctive shape or color. For example, the word “UPS,” the slogans “What can brown do for you?” and “United Problem Solvers,” the UPS Shield logo, and the specific brown color of its delivery uniforms and trucks are all trademarks of United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS).
Copyright protects anything that’s considered an expression of an idea on tangible media, such as a poem, architectural design, photograph, video, or painting. Signatories of the Berne Convention, which consists of more than 100 countries, are all committed to protecting copyright in a similar fashion.
An owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive rights to distribute, reproduce, publicly perform, and modify that work. The owner can also grant some or all these rights to customers.
Creative Commons licenses and public domain
Creative Commons licenses are used by content creators to grant the right to share, use, or modify a work that they authored. There are several different types of Creative Commons licenses. The most relevant here is Creative Commons Zero (CC0), which dedicates the content creator’s copyright to the public domain.
Content in the public domain is not protected by copyright. Usually this is because the copyright has expired, the type of work is exempt from copyright protection, or the creator intentionally put the work into the public domain.
Public domain or Creative Commons Zero work only lacks a copyright to the work itself. There may still be intellectual property depicted within the work, including a model or property. For example, the copyright in a photograph of a person holding a bottle of Coca-Cola may be dedicated to the public domain, but the Coca-Cola logo, the bottle shape, and the person’s portrait are not free to use commercially.
A NASA image (1) and a modified NASA image accepted for stock (2)
If the content does not depict any NASA trademark or likeness of an astronaut or other persons and has been used to create a recognizably new visual work. For example, in the image above, a NASA image (1) was modified to create a new image (2) that is distinctly different from the original.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for counsel. Also, it may or may not be a complete understanding of all applicable IP rights in your content, depending on the context.
Consult your legal counsel on specific legal questions.