Sunday, May 11, 2014

Copyright Reminder

A while back, I wrote a post about posting pictures to blog pages.  In a nutshell, it's a very bad idea unless you have taken the pictures yourself.  It's real easy to go online and find a funny snapshot of some redneck with buck teeth and a piece of straw in his mouth and think, "This would add some hilarious commentary to my recent post."  However, most of these photos were taken by someone who has a vested interest in making money off of that picture.  Intellectual property is all artists have, and there can be hell to pay if that gets violated.

And pictures aren't the only area where copyright is a big deal.  I like to add realism to my stories, which means including things that everyday people will recognize, or at least will make more real if they do even perfunctory research.  Our characters seem more like real people if they have specific tastes in soda, pizza, sports teams, and music.  This is where things get a little fuzzy.

First, never post anything defamatory about any product or specific business.  I don't care if it happened 50 years ago and everyone agrees with you - it's just a bad idea.  Your work of fiction isn't a review where limited license to mention a product is allowed.  If you have nothing nice to say, don't say it, or at least make up what you're saying something bad about.

Second, get permission if at all feasible.  I'm doing this with Akeldama right now, and it isn't as difficult as it may sound.  Most businesses have a media relations department.  At the very least, they have a customer service department that will take your inquiries.  The majority of them will be thrilled for the free advertising.  A business I contacted recently expressed their excitement over being mentioned, remarking that they were happy that others thought them important enough to be part of the cultural landscape.  And without fail, every place I've contacted was grateful I took the time to do so.

Third, if you can't get permission, ask yourself just how important the thing you want to mention is to your story.  There are a few places that haven't gotten back to me, but it won't be the end of the world if they don't.  They're included for realism, and they're easily edited if necessary.  It may not be as exciting, but it's better than facing a lawsuit.

Fourth, know your boundaries.  As I just said, it's always a good idea to get permission, but it's not always required.  I can mention the main character likes a certain band's music without getting into trouble.  However, trouble springs up if I mention a particular song or quote lyrics(that's intellectual property - be prepared to pay royalties).  You can mention a beer brand, but not its slogan.  And when it comes to sports teams, remember that team names are trademarked items.

So just get permission if you can, and if you can't, ask if the specificity is integral to what you're writing.  Better to get more generic if you have to rather than risk losing money you may or may not have by including that for which others didn't grant you the right.

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