“I pulled it from Google images so it’s okay.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone developing a presentation, proposal or template say this I wouldn’t need a paycheck. I equate finding and using images similar to passing one’s driving test. If you were never taught the rules of the road, you’re naturally going to use your best judgment based on your experience and knowledge at hand.
Independent professionals, smaller firms, and organizations generally don’t maintain as tight of a grip or have the legal counsel to advise employees on intellectual property (IP) and what they can or can’t do when it comes to downloading and using images and typefaces. Hopefully, this diagram, which has gone through my firm’s legal department, will help guide you with the rules of the (image) road.
So maybe you’re thinking, what if I do use this image that might not be exactly “kosher”, what really are the chances of getting caught? Well think again, a colleague at another firm was pitching a large international company that makes movies, runs theme parks and owns the rights to many recognizable animal characters. After the pitch, which they didn’t win, by the way, they were presented with a bill for $50,000 for using an image the client knew they didn’t have the rights to. Ouch! Frequently these situations lead to lawsuits typically in the five figures arena. It can also get worse, you can unknowingly use an unlicensed image or typeface and pass that presentation or template over to your client and not you but the client gets surprised with an unfortunate legal entanglement. Rapid damage control for your wallet and reputation as your client, or soon to be ex-client, will be grilling you hard and fast wondering how and why this occurred. I’ve seen it happen.
Just because it’s out there, doesn’t necessarily mean you can use it. Someone either owns it or wants to protect it, at best they need to get paid if you want to use it. Always follow the intellectual property rule book to avoid potentially emptying your checkbook!
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Alex Leopold is based in Manhattan, New York and oversees Interbrand’s global presentation strategy and advises their client template development teams in their 21 offices around the world.
He has taught at New York University (NYU) and has served as a presentation and template consultant to dozens of management consulting, branding, and financial institutions throughout his career. You can connect with Alex on LinkedIn.