How to Avoid Copyright Infringement in Graphic Design

December 11, 2013 General, Graphic & Comm. Design 0 Comments

Read to discover how to avoid a copyright infringement. Learn more at Harrington College of Design. With the availability of resources provided by the internet, copyright law can be a tricky concept to work with in graphic design since so many resources are publicly available. Plagiarism of writing is not always easy to catch, much less prove, yet is relatively simple to define. Stolen artwork is even harder to track and find but very easy to prove. Unique concepts create a gray area in which theft may not be provable.

Plagiarism is the use of another person’s intellectual property, typically writing, with the implication it is your own. Not only unethical, this is illegal when done knowingly. The easiest way to avoid accusations of plagiarism is to cite your sources of information after fully rewording or reinterpreting them. Occasionally for unpaid writing you can quote another person’s work with proper acknowledgement, but published work always needs the permission of the original author to quote.

Because of the amount of images on the internet, sometimes artwork cannot be tracked. However, stolen artwork is quite obvious when pictures or graphic designs are an exact match. The problem with copyright law concerning art is that you may find a piece and think it is available for public usage when in fact it was previously stolen. Protect yourself by referencing the source and keeping a record of permission granted for you to use it, even if simply a general website policy stating that its pictures are available to the public.

Concepts can include original thoughts or anything unique to a website. The gray area is that copyright does not protect an idea. However, the manner of expression is protected. A drawing of a sled, for example, is protected as is a written description of the sled, but the idea of portraying a sled sliding down a snow-covered hill is not. Although your experience and even may be similar your design description must be unique.

When in doubt about an image’s copyright protection, ask for permission. Professionals protect themselves by documenting sources and permissions. This way, accidental theft can often be resolved with an apology and prompt removal of the material.


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