Does Your Marketing Comply With Intellectual Property Laws?

Small businesses and nonprofits often have little (or no) marketing budget, relying instead on Do-It-Yourself promotions. Kudos to those with the time and talent to do so, but be aware of intellectual property laws if you do.

Small business owners and nonprofits have an obligation to understand basic intellectual property law; or at least be aware of it and know when to ask questions. Willful ignorance is not an excuse to misappropriating someone else’s intellectual property.

What is intellectual property?

In very, very general terms, it is a creation for which you can obtain a patent, trademark, or copyright and for which you can receive legal protections that limit how and when others can use it. Example of intellectual property you encounter daily are logos, slogans, book jackets, published writings (including blogs), artwork, and even the design of your cereal box or shape of your shampoo bottle.

What actions infringe on someone’s intellectual property rights?

  • Using a business name or product name that is already owned by another​. Before you launch a new business or product, you should investigate whether you have the legal right to use your intended business name or product name. With billions of companies and products, your preferred name may already be used by another.
  • Using photos and artwork without permission. It is so simple to go to the internet and find the perfect image for your marketing materials. Unfortunately, you cannot snap that image onto your marketing materials or website unless you have the owner’s consent (which often involves purchasing rights to use the image).
  • Plagerizing. Remember that word from high school? Written works enjoy copyright protection upon publication, even publication on the internet. This means you cannot plagiarize or “borrow” someone else’s written words, be it a blog post, book, brochure, or whatever. There are also instances in which quotes and parodies can infringe upon someone else’s copyright. The same thing goes for music. “Borrowing” snippets of music for your ad campaign without consent and without payment could cause you a legal and financial headache.

Creating a logo/slogan/product that is a little too similar to someone else’s. Logos, slogans, and product designs can enjoy intellectual property rights. If you design your own logo, slogan, or product, you should consult with an attorney to ensure you do not violate someone else’s property rights. You could lose a lot of time and money having to redesign your logo or slogan and replace all of your marketing materials, should you be found to infringe on another’s property.

These are just three common examples. ​There are many, many more ways to infringe (accidentally or intentionally) on another’s intellectual property. It is worth the small cost of professional advice to ensure your marketing materials do not violate another’s property rights.

Think of this: if you spent a lot of time and money developing a protectable work, you would be upset to find others using it, distributing it, and even making money from it without your consent.

Lastly, remember to take the steps necessary to also protect your intellectual property (which will be discussed in a future post).

About Christine Jarzab Kuntz

Cynthia Gonzalez PA Employment Law
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