Clare Painter Associates

Digital licensing agency, copyright audits, and publishing rights consultancy

The Risk of Getting it Wrong

This post was first published in Clare Painter’s digital rights newsletter on 19 January 2016

The Risk of Getting it Wrong

Rights and permissions don’t always go smoothly

Licences and permissions are undoubtedly more complex than they used to be. Most publishing is online (or print and online together) and therefore global.

That affects the licences you need to have in place, whether you’re authorising publication of your own material, or acquiring a licence to use or re-use someone else’s content.

However you might think that established book publishers would be on safe ground with printed books.

Perhaps not. Bill Bryson’s publisher, Transworld, recently hit the publishing industry press for what appeared to be copyright infringement on a book cover.

As part of the cover design, they had used a particular ‘jolly fisherman’ figure which was used quite widely in connection with the town of Skegness, which features in the book.

Only after publication did it emerge that the figure is still under copyright, and owned by the local town council. Apologies followed and, I believe, a retrospective licence was put in place.

It doesn’t always remain so amicable. In 2014, Flickr (which is owned by Yahoo) found themselves in a storm of controversy when they announced plans to sell photos from their site for a variety of uses.

These images had been uploaded to the site by individual users under the broad Creative Commons “CC-BY” licence. This allows wide reuse without payment, as long as the source is acknowledged.

But it turned out that some of those users thought that, under this licence, their photos would only be used by small-scale publications and businesses. They didn’t like the thought that an internet giant such as Yahoo could sell their content and potentially pocket the profits.