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Author Topic: Practical question about "borrowing" some famous images for limited use  (Read 160 times)

CharlesJones

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I am preparing a business document -- a FAQ -- for a proposed business undertaking.  The distribution will be private, via e-mail, to maybe a few dozen corporate executives (at some tech companies), some Angel funders, some venture capitalists.  There is no intended public distribution, certainly no web posting of this document.

To make the FAQ interesting, I am seasoning it with a little humor.  At one point, as part of the intended humor, I have included a few pictures of famous movie and film characters, for example the "line up" might be:  Godzilla, Indiana Jones, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk, maybe a few others.  I obtained the images with a simple Google images search.

I'm not really commenting on the images, or editorializing or satirizing them, so I'm not sure my use falls under "fair use."  But I'm not sure about that.  If an image has become part of the larger culture, is it allowed under Fair Use to use an image as part of making some other point?  (For example, showing some big technical problem as Godzilla, and using Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk to symbolize the "hero technology" to overcome the problem?) 

These famous movie/TV images will not be incorporated in the future into any public advertising or trademarks or product literature.  I just plan to use them in the FAQ, again for limited, targeted release.  Is this allowed without copyright violation?

Even if it is a formal copyright violation, as a strictly PRACTICAL matter:  Does anyone file law suits over such things?  Is there any really chance that Disney or Paramount or George Lucas would make an issue over a use like this?  Or, could it potentially make a bad impression on the business recipients of the FAQ, even though they will be people who (as far as I know) are not associated with the entertainment business?

The idea is to have some harmless, minor fun using well-known commercial images to underscore a point or two.  In practice, is this often done, or is this potentially setting my small business up for problems?
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lazyexaminer

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I feel like you are arguing de minimus use and not fair use. I don't see how it is fair use when as you say you are not using the images for parody or commentary or anything like that, you are using them to invoke the character depicted...and also things like Getty Images exist that offer licenses for stock photos of movie stills, which seems like exactly what you are doing. I don't know if it would be de minimus or not.

When asking whether a company in practice will sue you, always remember that Disney threatened to sue a day care center for having an unlicensed Mickey painted on the wall. I'm not arguing if that is good or bad, but some companies relentlessly protect their IP. You can be sued even if you are right and will have to pay to defend yourself against a multi-billion dollar company and its lawyers.

I'm not an expert in this field and this is of course not legal advise.
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artchain

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Yes, this would be a copyright violation, even if the distribution is limited.

I personally take offense when I see copyright violations.  I think it's very inappropriate in a business document...  it indicates a cavalier attitude toward ethics and legal considerations.  Some of your potential investors may feel the same.

Some companies are very aggressive in going after copyright violations.  Disney and Getty Images come to mind.  Getty, in fact, uses a particularly nasty tactic - they send you a bill, and if you don't pay it, they just turn it over to a collections agency.

My ex-wife owns a graphic design company.  She is meticulous in tracking images and making sure everything they use is properly licensed, but on a couple of occasions things slipped through, and they ended up paying thousands of dollars in damages.

Here's another "scare story" just to emphasize the point that people DO get caught and sued:

https://www.contentfac.com/copyright-infringement-penalties-are-scary/


My advice would be to find images on stock photo sites that express the points you want to make.  License the images, and keep track of the licenses.


« Last Edit: 11-13-17 at 06:25 pm by artchain »
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CharlesJones

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Thank you for the replies.  Shame on Disney, but I get the point.  OP
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