Four Common Copyright Problems in Content Marketing

Copyright is a complicated subject, and there are a lot of small business owners that don’t fully understand it. Unfortunately, that can lead to some problems, especially when it comes to content marketing. Entomologist and photographer Alex Wild highlighted this problem in his post ‘So Your Company Has Been Found Using My Photos Without Permission. Now What?’, which recently made the rounds on Facebook. In it he answers a few of the common, almost incredulously asked, questions, and highlights a serious problem I see in content marketing.

Is copyright a little fuzzy?
photo credit: Nancy Sims / Flickr

Some business owners and marketers either don’t understand, or ignore, the legal obligations of copyright. But if you don’t pay close attention to your marketing, you could find yourself facing some serious fines. To help out entrepreneurs struggling with this issue, I’ve put together a few of the most common copyright problems I see.

Using Images

If you straight up stole an image off a stock photo site, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you are violating that site’s or artist’s copyright. But what if you paid a licensing fee? Or used a photo released under the ‘Creative Commons’ license? You could still be violating copyright. Carefully read the license of whatever photos you use. Some photographers will license their photos to be used in some marketing, but not in branding. Or they’ll ask that more money be paid if the photo is going to be used in an ad. Creative Commons, while a great idea, normally doesn’t allow for commercial use. Since you profit from your marketing, you would violate that. So read licensing agreements closely so you know exactly how you can use an image.


Here’s a scenario – you’re writing a blog post, and while researching the topic you find an article with a ton of great, usable information, and decide to quote it. Have you violated the author’s copyright? If you didn’t attribute it properly, you may have. You’re allowed to quote, and link to, other articles, as long as the quoted material doesn’t take up a substantive amount of your piece. Your post still has to be primarily written by you, and you need to properly cite where you got the quote. Otherwise, readers could assume you’re the author of the quoted material, and that is something you cannot claim.

Misunderstanding Fair Use

Fair use is a rough subject – even the copyright office says it’s tough to figure out. But when it comes to for-profit marketing, fair use limitations are a tad more cut and dry. The litmus test for what constitutes ‘fair use’ is normally a set of four questions, the first of which is whether or not the copyrighted material is being used for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If your company is using content marketing to get people to buy your product or service, you’re engaging in commercial activity, and it’ll be exceedingly difficult to claim fair use.

A dog is getting angry at naughty copyright violators
photo credit: stacey / Flickr

Letting stuff slide

Copyright problems go both ways – I see far too many small business owners letting infringement slide, believing it’d be too costly or expensive to enforce their intellectual property rights. But you must remember that your intellectual property is one of the keys to your business’s success. My own website and articles have both been copied in the past without my permission, and while it’s easy to just let people get away with it, these sorts of actions diminishes and devalues a brand. I – and most small business owners who engage into content marketing – work really hard on creating good, insightful posts and content. Don’t let that work get stolen. Always enforce your intellectual property rights.