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The other day Joe, one of my friends in the construction business, called. He'd read my article on Doodlekit, Copyright Law: Keeping You and Your Website Out of Trouble.
"I'm glad I read your article before I started my website. If I hadn't, I would have just used whatever I found on the Internet. I guess I'm going to have to take all the pictures myself."
"That's always smart."
"I have a question, but only if you won't bill me."
"I'm in a good mood and never want to be considered one of the 1%. I can't get too rich. If you agree I can blog about this conversation, this one is on me."
"Ok, but you have to let me read your blog and approve it in writing. And don't use my name."
"You are learning. I think we should put you in law school. What's your question?"
"Right now I'm manufacturing all sorts of doodads for my customers that have their logos on them. So if I take pictures of what I've built, I own the pictures, right? That's what your article said."
"Unfortunately, there are always exceptions to the rules."
"So this is how you stick your clients! You tell them the general rule by writing blogs about stuff they are interested in, and then they get stuck on the crazy legal particulars so they have to hire you!"
"I have to eat. I only said I was trying to stay out of the 1%, to avoid the aristocrat stigma."
"True. And last time I saw you you looked liked you'd been getting enough to eat."
"Thanks. It looked like you were more prosperous than ever as well."
"The home cooking is a killer!"
"But Joe, bellies aside, you have to admit the article helped you understand you couldn't just pull pictures off the web, and you learned enough to ask whether you could use a customer's logos in your pictures."
"You're right. So tell me then, why can't I take pictures of my customer's trademarked doodads and put them on my website?"
"You actually can use them, but only if you always obtain prior written consent. First, there is an argument your customers own the photos you take of the doodads you are building for them. It may even be in some of the contracts. But most importantly, by putting their logos, trademarks, or service marks on your website, you could get sued for misappropriation, and a bunch of other stuff. They own the marks and logos, so they get to use them however they wish. This is a lay restatement of the law. Granted, in most cases you would probably be ok because your customers wouldn't mind, wouldn't see what you were doing as an infringement, might never catch you in the act, or they'd just send you a nasty letter telling you what you had to take down. I'm just giving you the very conservative risk management approach. The one I would use for my own business. Always get prior written consent."
"Geesh. Can it get any more difficult? Plus, now I think I remember something in a contract about using one of my customer's trademarks or whatever."
"You're right. Most of your big customers will have something in their contracts about using their logos, trademarks, servicemarks, or copyrighted material."
"I wish there was an easy answer."
"There is. Before you put up any pictures or images involving any customer's trademarks, servicemarks, copyrighted material, or logos, look at your contract with them and see if there are any instructions for doing so, and follow them. Sometimes these contracts will say you can't use their marks at all. Plus, even if there is nothing in the contract, always get your customer's written consent anyway. For all you know you are missing something in the contract or you could make him mad if he feels it is only proper business etiquette to first gain his approval. Just make a phone call and tell him how excited you are to show off his products on your web site, and you want his approval to do so. He'll likely share in your excitement. But remember, get written approval. Email usually works unless there is something in the contract or the customer desires using another method. If email is ok, one of the best approaches is to send him a snapshot of exactly how your website will appear with his images, logos, copyrighted material, or text on it, along with exactly what you are going to say."
"It sounds reasonable and I guess I'd like to see what someone's going to say about me before my stuff goes up on their website. And like you say, the customer probably will be delighted when he hears you are wanting to show off his products. Now I can see how getting this written consent can keep me out of trouble and be a great networking tool at the same time."