Understanding Copyright Basics: Part 2

copyright-2OK, so you’ve got the basics on protecting your own work. Next up in your copyright and graphic design education–how to make sure you’re not stepping on the law’s toes when you use work from another artist.

Well, under fair use laws, there are ways you can legally and fairly use someone’s graphic design work. Using someone’s copyrighted material is cool if you’re using it as part of a parody, a critical review, or for an educational purpose.

But before you go lifting an image for your next graphic design “parody,” make sure you understand how the law determines if material was fairly used. Again, the rules are vague–and every case is determined individually by examining 4 major criteria:

  1. Purpose and Character of Your Use: Did you make significant changes or improvements to create something new or give the original new meaning?
  2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work: Are you disseminating facts and information (better) or borrowing from fiction (worse)?
  3. Amount and Substantiality of What You Used: Are you using just a small portion or short quote? Is that borrowed piece (however big or small) the heart of the work?
  4. The Effect of the Use on the Potential Market: Is your work depriving the original creator of income or are you now making money from what you borrowed?

As you can see, there’s no solid rule about what or how much you can legally borrow. And even if you think you’ve used something fairly, the owner of the copyrighted material can take issue at any time.

So how do you avoid infringing on someone’s copyright? Well the simple and direct answer is asking for permission to use the material. Even safer–check out Creative Commons to find works that are actually licensed to be shared, resused, and remixed.

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One Comment

  1. Andrew Tanabe
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Is there a subjective percentage, ie, 30% of an image is changed or altered so that the copyright of the image is not enforceable? I have a situation where the graphic designer states that the graphic image is altered more than 30%, so it does not fall under copyright protection. The modified image is an insert for a medal, so it is not an item for sale.

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