we're in the news newspaperHave you ever received an award for your business or landed a great media mention? When that happens, a smart publicity strategy is to announce the award or media and put an “As Seen On” claim on your website.

But not so fast! Before you start pasting other company’s logos on your website, you better be sure that it isn’t a trademark or copyright violation. In other words, you need permission (a license) to do it.

Yes, a lot of people put these types of badges on their website. All that means is that a lot of people are potentially stealing copyrighted and trademarked images out of ignorance. The attitude that “everyone else is doing it” is a sure-fire way of getting yourself into hot water by stealing intellectual property unintentionally.

That being said, there are many times you can include another company’s logo or copyrighted work on your website, ads, or emails. Getting permission is oftentimes free and requires just a little bit of effort.

With smaller companies, the easiest way to get permission is to just ask. Some will ask you to purchase a license. Some will just say, “OK” and that will be it. Some will direct you to rules and digital downloads they have for their “assets.” Some companies have specific rules on how their assets are used and presented, and you should respect that. Their permission for your use depends on you sticking to their parameters.

Certain companies (and media in particular) will put their logos out for public use on a creative commons license, or on a restricted, royalty-free license for commercial use. So, for example, NBC’s logo is available by a creative commons license (meaning that it can be used broadly and it is registered with non-profits to make their rules easy to figure out).

Similarly, Facebook allows (and in fact encourages) you to use their logo, even for commercial purposes, under a very broad, royalty-free license. Facebook wants you to link people to your profiles using their badge so that you will drive people to their website.

Not only do big companies offer Creative Commons licenses for their works and logos, authors and the government may do this as well. You can sometimes even modify and expand upon the licensed work, depending on the permissions granted.

Two places you can check for Creative Commons licenses include Wikimedia.org and CreativeCommons.org. Both websites are private non-profits set up for this very purpose, and can be considered reputable.

Next, to some degree, use of images for parody (even in a commercial video) is considered protected free speech. Similarly, images and quoted or excerpted media for newsworthy sites may be protected “fair use” under the First Amendment. This can be a complicated area of law, so be sure to check with your lawyer if you are a media or entertainment site. All other businesses should generally just try to stay away from anything that is not expressly licensed.

Finally, you should have instructions somewhere in your Terms of Service for people to contact you with “take down” requests. This gives you a safe harbor time period to deal with any disputes before the claiming party can file a lawsuit.

If you ever have a question about a particular image, you should ask a lawyer. It’s better to be safe than sorry. We offer our clients entry into our Peace of Mind Plan — for a small, monthly fee, they can call us with all their legal questions and get the help they need.

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