Logo Use Online: Copyright Act
When it comes to designing and building websites, particularly for our eCommerce clients, we often need to use other companies’ logos to promote the products being sold.
Herein lays one of the tricky situations associated to publishing material online. As a digital agency, getting the appropriate permissions to use a brand’s logo online is not our responsibility, it is the responsibility of the website owner, and that’s you. It’s your company and it’s your website so it is your responsibility to ensure all the content on there is legal and legitimate. If not, you’ll be the one receiving complaints and allegations of trademark infringement and breaking copyright laws.
So what are the relevant copyright laws in the UK?
The current copyright act is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998. The important points to note are that first, this law protects; literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic work, typographical arrangements of published editions, sound recordings and film. (An extension to this law also covered computer programs).
Second, copyright is an automatic right, therefore it arises every time either an individual or a company produces a piece of work that is original and demonstrates a notable level of work, skill or judgement – for this reason copyright applies to the actual creation rather than the idea behind it and shorter elements like titles and short phrases are not copyright protected. However, pieces that combine these smaller elements, like a logo, are copyright protected!
Copyright Law Restricted Acts:[quote cite=”Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998″ url=”http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p01_uk_copyright_law”]“It is an offense to perform any of the following acts without consent of the owner: Copy the work, Rent, lend or issue copies of the work to the public, Perform, broadcast or show the work in public, Adapt the work. The author of a work or a director of a film may also have certain moral rights: The right to be identified as the author, Right to object to derogatory treatment”[/quote]
So there you have it in a nutshell, UK copyright laws. You have been warned and informed.
For information on U.S. copyright laws relating specifically to the use of logos online try this source.
So how do you approach getting permission to use another company’s logo on your website?
Well good old fashioned courtesy goes a long way. You need to email the appropriate contact at the company who owns the logo you want to use, taking the time to outline how you will use that logo if permission is granted e.g. on what page of your website and for what reason and ask for their consent to use it. This person should have the authority to grant you that consent there and then, or be able to forward your request on to the people who can. The benefit of emailing your request rather than telephoning is that it allows you to keep a paper trail of your request and hopefully your permissions, if granted.
If approval of your request is granted, again to maintain that paper trail, ask for a copy to be sent to you and for it to be signed, then once you have that company’s logo legally in place on your website, send a screenshot of it in use back to the owners to demonstrate how it is being used and to prevent and protect you from conflicts over use in the future.
Essentially, going through the permissions process and indeed using that company’s logo on your website, all serves to build a business relationship between you. So, being polite, professional and thorough can only serve to strengthen that relationship and establish respect and good faith.
One Last Word of Warning
The consequences of failing to ask permission of use before publicly displaying a logo you do not have copyright for will certainly lead to some form of legal action, and possibly result in fines and damages. Here are 5 famous copyright infringement cases to learn from.
So take the time to send that email!
UPDATE 22/11/2014: In evidence that flouting or breaking copyright law can be an expensive mistake check out this article from The Drum covering the ongoing (and expensive) legal battle over copyright violations between Samsung and Apple.