Gen Z Grew Up Freely Sharing Photos and Videos, But The Consequences Can Be Costly If They Do So On Behalf of Your Business
Much ink has been spilled writing about the arrival of Generation Z into the workplace. These discussions usually focus on how companies need to adapt to the experiences, expectations, and habits of a group that has grown up with the internet, social media, and limitless technology at their fingertips since kindergarten. For this generation, sharing photos, videos, memes, and music online is second nature, and they copy, paste, and post others’ online content without giving it a second thought. But Gen Z’s carte blanche attitude towards sharing could have costly consequences for their employers if they post or use others’ copyrighted material on the employer’s behalf without permission from the copyright holder.
That is because the billions of images and videos available at the click of a mouse are the intellectual property of the person or company that created them. Using them without the creator or owner’s consent constitutes copyright infringement. And in a world where millions of people can see a single post over and over, the potential damages recoverable against an infringer can be astronomical.
Online Images and Copyright Law
Those pictures you took of your vacation and posted on Facebook, or that video you made of yourself and uploaded to TikTok – you own the copyright to that content. Similarly, your business owns the copyright to images and videos created by its employees. This is the case even if you or your company haven't registered a copyright with the United States Copyright Office or used a © symbol or a phrase such as "copyright-protected material" in connection with the content.
A copyright attaches to a creative work - such as a book or article, movie, music, painting, or photograph – the second it is created in tangible form. Unless the creator or author has assigned their rights to someone else, they hold the copyright to that content. While registering a copyright provides its owner with additional legal protections and rights, a copyright owner has the right to control how their work is used and who uses it even without registration.
This includes the right to stop others from reproducing or distributing the work or creating a "derivative work," such as altering a copyrighted image with Photoshop or similar software. So, if a photographer stumbled upon one of their pictures on your business's website or you used it elsewhere, they would have a valid claim for copyright infringement against your company. Importantly, an infringer’s state of mind or intent when uploading the content is irrelevant. So, an employee who claims they didn’t know they were infringing on a copyright will not save the company from liability.
Your Company Will Get Caught and Will Pay Dearly For Copyright Infringement
As noted, registering a photo, video, music, or other creative work with the Copyright Office provides the owner with additional legal rights. The copyright owner can seek to recover any actual damages or losses they incurred because of the infringement, a sum that can be enormous if the protected content was reproduced hundreds or thousands of times. But a registered copyright owner can also obtain damages without showing they suffered any harm at all.
In lieu of proving actual damages, the copyright owner can seek to recover "statutory damages" from $750 to $30,000 per violation, along with their attorneys' fees. If a court finds that the infringement was committed willfully, it can award statutory damages of up to $150,000 per each act of infringement.
Businesses may think the odds of getting caught for using images or music without the owner’s consent are low enough to justify the risk or not be a cause for concern. This can be a costly miscalculation. Inexpensive and widely available software can quickly scour the internet to find infringing images, and many law firms will pursue statutory damage claims on a contingency basis since the infringer will pay their fees if their claim is successful.
Businesses should be cognizant of the risks of copyright infringement and ensure that their employees – especially those Gen Z’ers who have spent their lives freely and frequently sharing content online - understand the law. This can be done by creating company policies regarding the use of images or other media that all employees must read and acknowledge.
If you have any questions or concerns about your company’s exposure for copyright infringement or want assistance establishing policies and programs to minimize the risks, please contact please contact one of our intellectual property attorneys, Colin O’Brien at email@example.com or John Ambrogi at firstname.lastname@example.org.