When you think of copyright, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the ominous blue screen with F.B.I. in big letters that play before any movie you watch. Well, it applies to more than just movies, and you might be breaking the law without even knowing it.

What is covered under copyright?

Almost anything that is designed, produced, or thought of by another human being, is subject to copyright. This is normally referred to as “intellectual property.” Since you’re probably familiar with copyright applying to music, movies, games, and software, let’s cover a few things that you might not have known.

Images – If you’ve ever made a brochure or wrote a blog post, and grabbed some images off Google image search, you’ve probably broken the law.

Fonts – Copying a font from your computer onto a flash drive to give someone else is also most likely illegal.

Logos – Unless you have explicit permission from the company, you should never use another companies logo online or in your print collateral. This includes sports teams.

TV & Movie Characters & Names – You can’t have Mickey Mouse in your company name or logo.

How to Avoid Breaking the Law

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources for images and fonts online. Creative Commons was created so that people could share their work, while getting the appropriate acknowledgement. If you’re looking for images, go to the Creative Commons Search and choose a website (I prefer Flickr). Sometimes the owner of the image will ask that you credit them where the image is used. To illustrate how this works, I spent “a few minutes” of my day finding pictures of sleeping puppies that are licensed under Creative Commons. Notice the credit under the photos contain a link to the author, the original photo source, and what Creative Commons license applies. This credit is not optional, but doesn’t have to be obtrusive.

sleeping_puppy_1Photo by Jörg Schubert / CC BY

sleeping_puppy_2Photo by Michael Budde / CC BY

sleeping_puppy_3Photo by Christopher Rice / CC BY

If you’re looking for fonts, there are lots of great resources such as dafont and Font Squirrel. A quick Google search for free or Creative Commons licensed fonts turned up this awesome blog post about the Best Free Fonts for 2015.

As for logos and TV/Movie characters? There’s no option unless you get permission. Companies like Disney strictly enforce copyright. You could find yourself bankrupt, and possibly behind bars if you use other people’s intellectual property, so it’s always a good idea to be as original as possible. Also, copyright isn’t always about a direct copy of something, it can even cover the “likeness.” So be careful even when creating something similar.

Copyright doesn’t have to be complicated. If you use things covered under Creative Commons, consider giving back to the community as well. We offer a few resources licensed under Creative Commons, check out our downloads page.

TKO Tech Talk is a column written by Eric Benge, who has over 10 years experience in the design and print industries. Technology changes rapidly, the advice or information included in these articles is considered accurate and helpful as of the date they are posted online. If you have any questions, technology related or otherwise, please contact us.