Copyright Concern

Hey guys, I have a bit of an odd question. I’ll try to keep it brief, but I struggle with the balance of too much information vs too little - so I’ll have a TLDR and a more detailed chunk below it.

TLDR: Using a tracing of a copyrighted image is just as/nearly as bad as copying the image outright, correct? If so, any advice for explaining that or working around it if my colleague or the client tries to push the issue?

More details:
I’m the in-house designer for a print shop, so most jobs come through one of the sales reps, whether they’re design or print. I got one on my desk the other day where my instructions we basically a clients hand-written notes saying (paraphrased) “I fell in love with this image and want to use it for my logo.”

The picture in question is on a Leanin’ Tree greeting card, with all the appropriate copyright markings on the back - so I immediately stopped because that’s not going to happen. I messaged the guy who took the order in and told him I needed to talk to him, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. It’s a crazy week, so I’m not chalking that up to anything, mind you.

The mental snag I’m hitting is that there is also a “sketch” of what she wants her business cards to look like - it’s on tracing paper and the image is obviously traced off the card. While I’m not 100% certain that’s as bad legally as copying the image with a machine, it still seems like that’s at least art theft if not infringement of copyright, and not something we should present to a client for their logo or business card, even if they specifically requested it.

So if I’m right, that’s a big red stop sign. The other part, though, is this sales person has kind of made a habit of responding “Can’t you just…” when I bring up a problem - and so while I haven’t gotten to talk to him about this specific problem yet, I’m kind of worried I’ll get that kind of approach here, where he’ll ask me to cut a corner I’m not comfortable cutting.

Am I correct, in that both of the options as I understand them are big enough legal no-nos that I should hold my ground on not doing them? And if that’s the case, does anybody have any tips to making sure I communicate that effectively? I’m still the youngest/least experienced person in the shop, so sometimes my concerns get dismissed or downplayed if I don’t do a good job of keeping it clear.

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Your job is to advise and move on from it.

I’d put it firmly in writing that this image is traced from a copyrighted piece of material and it cannot be used for anything that the client wants without express permission from the creator of the original content. Please advise on how you would like to proceed.

Once you get the go ahead - in writing - then just do it.

There’s a saying in this business, put your nostrils above the water enough to breath, and work from the neck down.

Advise, and move on.

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I agree with Smurf2.

Yes, it’s a copyright violation in the same sense that retyping someone’s copyrighted text is a violation. It might be a minor violation, but it’s still a violation.

Send an email to this person and the person you report to explaining the issue, If you get a reply saying to move ahead with it, you’ll have it in writing. From that point on, it’s their copyright and ethical problem — not yours.

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I would email my supervisor “hey I’m just a designer but this is something that may be a financial liability to your business. You may want to check with a lawyer”.

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Your employer can legally refuse the work. However, if your employer tells you to do it, then do it.

Here in Ireland it’s very straightforward - the employer is the first owner of the copyright.

If you let your employer know in writing and they confirm in writing - then go ahead.

I would contact the copyright holder for permission to use it, and ask about fees. If that all goes ok you should still remind your client that this image has been used elsewhere. It will never be exclusive to them.

Without permission you can’t use it. That’s all there is to it.

I had this with a client years ago and they were insistent. I said how would you feel if I designed something original for you and then someone else used it? They weren’t happy but they agreed.

Thanks for the advice, guys. I was stressing out about this, worrying that I was worrying too much, and so on. It’ll help when I do talk to the sales rep to know what good routes are depending on how that conversation goes.

Kaegro — I am not a lawyer, but I think Smurf2 may be misinterpreting the phrase “the employer is the first owner of the copyright of the work”—This applies only if you as the employee, create a brand new, never before seen or used, work of art, then your employer would own the copyright. It does not apply or protect you (or your employer for that matter) if you are copying an already copyrighted image that was created by someone other than your employer, outside of your employer’s company. Do you understand? You are really treading on thin ice here.

I think I understand what you’re saying - the crux of my question was, after all, whether I should make a stink about the issue as I understood it, and if so, how much of one. Sort of a “how liable am I for doing what I’m told to do, if what I’m told to do causes problems” I suppose.

I did manage to chat with the sales rep, and unfortunately I got about the response I expected. I was told to work with what we were given for now, and he’d talk to the client about the legal concerns - but I got another round of revisions with no new information addressing the issue. So as near as I can tell, he’s brushing it off in the interest of pushing the order through.

It definitely still feels like treacherous waters, though, so I think the next step is probably to bring it to my supervisor and let her know why I’m concerned - in writing, so I have some backing in case anything does get ugly.

Thanks again for pitching in.

Absolutely you should contact your Supervisor—in writing AND in person!—and do it without delay! … Better to be safe than sorry!

So the point of the employer is the owner of the copyright was very simple.
It’s the employer that would be in the shits when the issue of copyright comes up.

You have to tell them.

And it’s very likely that if the employer were in the "s**t’s, the first thing he is likely to do is to either (1) blame his employee, (2) fire the employee (3) or both…

Exactly why it needs to be sent directly to the employer.

Being cognizant of office politics is also important. Kicking issues up a notch or two in an organization can (depending on the situation) work in your favor by letting the boss know you’re on top of things or work against you if the boss disagrees and coworkers begin distrusting you. In other words, tread carefully.

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