Tackling the Complex Issue of Copyright

Basic tips and tricks for navigating copyright issues in the age of easily-accessible content.

In this age of easily-accessed images, logos, and fonts, copyright is both easy and confusing. Here’s the easy part: The moment someone creates something-whether it’s a photograph, a drawing, or a poem-that creation is automatically protected by copyright. The fact that it has been uploaded and available for downloading does not necessarily make it a “free for all.” The only time that something can be downloaded and used for any purpose (including commercial) is when it has been designated as such or permission has been granted by the creator.

Copyright gets tricky when a work of art is taken and modified or looks similar to an original work. Is a Mickey Mouse hat a Mickey Mouse hat if it is red? What if it has three ears instead of two? Does the purpose behind the usage of the hat make a difference? That’s what copyright lawyers are for-sorting out the gray areas. It’s best to stay out of the gray areas. 
One mistake people make with regards to teams’ logos or logos in general is the permissions part. You may have received permission to use copyright material from an organization; however, that does not mean that the person who gave you permission for using an image is authorized to give permission in the first place. When you do find the authorized person that can give permission to use copyright material, make sure to get it in writing. 

Fonts, graphics, and images are readily available for commercial-use, but many websites have a mix of artwork that is for personal-use only and for commercial. Most sites that offer images, fonts, and graphics have specific information about how those images can be used. Check out the licensing information before you download an asset.

There may also be a mix of free and pay options. Here are a few websites that have mixed-use options: Pexels, Pixabay, Good Free Photos, Unsplash, or Gratisography
For more information about some of the rules and definitions of usage, terms like public domain, creative commons, and CCO, check out and

-Shon Roti, JDS Industries

Shon Roti

Shon Roti

Shon Roti is the owner of 9inthStreetDesigns, a sublimation and graphic design consulting business, and has a career in the awards and promotional products industry spanning over 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

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