PSU Insight

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Copyright Works Both Ways!

Just as you don’t want other people to “steal” your material, you certainly should not use other people’s copyrighted material without their permission. Unfortunately, speakers sometimes break the law without realizing it.

So far, we’ve been talking about protecting your material from unauthorized use by someone else. But the process works the other way as well — just as you don’t want other people to “steal” your material, you certainly should not use other people’s copyrighted material without their permission.

Many speakers break the law without realizing it. Do you use cartoons or comics from the daily paper (like Dilbert or Peanuts) in your handouts, overheads, or workbooks? Surprise! They’re copyrighted, and you’re breaking the law.

Do you use photographs on your web site or your PowerPoint presentations? Many photographs are copyrighted; you must receive permission from the photographer (or whoever owns the copyright) to legally use them.

Many popular songs are copyrighted. (Legally, you cannot sing “Happy Birthday to You” in one of your seminars without paying a royalty fee to the copyright owner of – yes – Happy Birthday. The copyright to Happy Birthday is currently owned by Warner/Chappell Music.) So whether your audience is hearing light background music before your presentation or “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in your finale, you’d better have acquired the correct license (or be sure that no license is necessary) or you could be hearing from someone’s lawyer.

Even little line drawings or other ‘clip art’, unless they are marked as ‘royalty free’ or are in the public domain, should not be used without permission from the copyright holder.

And be careful — just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. Text or photographs are posted on the web for you to look at and read, but you haven’t necessarily been granted permission to use the material.

Now you may feel that you’re being needlessly restricted in your activities. It’s certainly tempting to use someone else’s photograph, cartoon, clip art or song in your speeches or materials. But in all fairness, you cannot expect others to honor your copyrights if you’re not diligent about honoring theirs.