Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Are You Using Google Images Responsibly?

By Sarah Larson

Everyone loves Google Images. Almost from the moment of its launch in 2001, it became the most convenient visual reference tool in the history of the human race. It’s only natural, then, that many people head straight to Google Images when they’re looking for a photo or illustration to use on their website, in a firm newsletter, to illustrate a blog post, or for any number of other uses.

The problem is that virtually anyone who does this is violating copyright and stealing intellectual property.

The vast majority of the images found in the results of a Google Images search are owned by someone, somewhere, and each owner is entitled to compensation for use of their image.  The only exceptions to this rule are images which are in the public domain. For example, any image created by an officer or employee of the U.S. government during the course of their duties – such as this U.S. National Parks Service photo of Mount Rushmore – is free for public use. But when it comes to private companies and individuals, a published image is automatically endowed with copyright unless the image’s owner specifically declares the image to be in the public domain.

Bottom line: The fact that an image appears in a Google search does not mean it is free for the public to use – a fact that is still lost on a great many people.

The length of copyright protection varies depending on when the image was published, but is usually a 75- or 90-year period that starts with the author’s death. Cornell University’s Copyright Information Center maintains a useful guide to copyright terms that you can find here.

So how do you know which images you are free to use? Google provides tools to help you avoid violating copyright. Both the Advanced Image Search and the default Google Images results screen offer controls that let you limit results based on usage rights.
Even then, most images that appear as labeled for reuse are actually under Creative Commons licenses. All Creative Commons licenses require a user to credit the image’s author or owner when using it, and many of the licenses have additional restrictions. Some, for example, prohibit use of the image for a commercial purpose. An excellent overview of the various Creative Commons licenses is available from ArsTechnica, a respected technology news website.

Flickr, one of the most popular online image galleries, also has a specific page dedicated to types of Creative Commons licenses, and helps users search for images they can use in accordance with those different licenses.

Courts in Australia, Germany, Israel, Belgium, and other countries each have upheld authors’ rights to works that were released under a Creative Commons license and later used non-compliantly by another party. Creative Commons licenses have yet to face a definitive court challenge in the United States – and we advise our clients to respect Creative Commons licenses and avoid becoming the defendant in the U.S. test case.

Of course, you also can try to locate the original owner of an image to request permission to use it. A copyright holder might appreciate your courtesy enough to grant permission, free of charge. However, it is often difficult to trace an image back to its original owner, especially if it has been shared and reshared, however unwittingly, by others who used it without first gaining permission.

In addition, there are very limited circumstances under which a copyrighted work, or parts of it, may be used without providing compensation to the copyright holder. Such uses fall under the fair use doctrine, which we’ll explore in a future blog post.

Monday, January 20, 2014

First, Do No Harm

By Rose Strong

Urban Outfitters, a Pennsylvania-based clothing and home goods company geared towards the hipster crowd and millennial generation, has caused uproar over some of its latest products. Controversy seems to be nothing new for the company, as it likes having an edgy, smack-you-in-the-face type of attitude and product base, but this latest racket is causing more noise than usual and the furor has now become global.

The company’s most recent product is a t-shirt with the word “Depression” written all over it. Groups within mental health care circles have stated that this garment flaunts mental illness like it’s a fashion statement.

We wrote about offensive advertising back in October. Although not advertising, Urban Outfitters uses its website and catalogs as marketing tools to promote its brand; which seems to be in danger of being crushed in this latest debacle.

Crisis communications teams must be on retainer and standing at the ready at Urban Outfitters; this is not the first time the company has made a blunder with what they assume are edgy and lively items that will appeal to its particular demographic. But it seems that even its own demographic is offering backlash to these tactics.

Can the quality of putting oneself into another’s shoes and walking their path be taught from childhood? Maybe it can't be, but somewhere along the stretch of a life-time of learning, perhaps everyone in any sort of mass media should take the Hippocratic Oath and pledge to, “First, Do No Harm.” Do no harm to the company you work for and do no harm to others who will view, buy and wear your products.

Thinking of the viewer and how he or she will perceive what you present to them is crucial to preventing a crisis.

Taking a look at one of the landing pages of Urban Outfitters’ website, the visual there has a snarkiness to it akin to someone thumbing their nose at you. They seem to not care about the storm that’s raging around them.

Through the company’s Twitter feed, its executives responded to critics, saying they were taking the onslaught into consideration; however, its Facebook page shows little response, probably because their fans can’t post directly to the page.

On Jan. 5, Urban Outfitters said on Twitter, "Hey everyone, we hear you and we are taking the shirt down from the site." The company said it had removed the offensive t-shirt from its product offerings. The next day, the company apologized "to those offended by the tee" and said the shirt had come from a small start-up company in Thailand by the name of Depression.

Regardless of the controversy, every company must respond to a crisis with action. Do you think Urban Outfitters has responded well? Do you think they’ll come out of this as well other controversies?

In this blog post here on The PR Lawyer, Gina F. Rubel refers to a Wall Street Journal article on the first 90 days of a PR crisis. It made good reading then and still does today. Perhaps Urban Outfitters should read it for the next time, or perhaps it should consider the guideline, ‘First, Do No Harm.’

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Set Yourself up for Success in 2014

By Kim Tarasiewicz

Goals, objectives, and resolutions are all things we hear at the start of a new year. But why are they important and how do we achieve them? Your specific industry may determine your corporate culture, but here are five tactics that will work to keep your company on track throughout the year when setting goals and business objectives.

  • Set measurable goals – Be clear about what you want to accomplish; instead of “growing the tax side of the business,” define a specific goal such as “increase profits 30 percent in the tax division of our business by each team member acquiring one new client.”
  • Share goals with the team – When your employees don’t know your goals, it is difficult to hold them accountable for business growth. Share your plan with them and ask them to commit to the ideas along with management, creating a team effort. Employees understand your business, so why not use their ideas when creating strategies for the year.
  • Define employee goals – Business plans are not only for the corporation. Team and individual employee goals should match those of the corporation. Set attainable goals with your employees and have regular meetings to review those objectives. Google’s internal grading system  for employees and suggests setting four to six goals each quarter.
  • Track goals – Creating objectives may seem easy until it is time to track those goals within your company. “More than 80 percent of small business owners surveyed said that they don't keep track of their business goals,” according to an Inc.com story on how to set business goals. Setting specific goals early on allows you to identify quantitative results each quarter.
  • Review and adjust – Business climates change, and while most companies look at their “numbers” at the end of each year, it’s important to review your strategies, research your target audiences and incorporate new technologies to evolve within your specific industry. Taking an educated risk might be just what your company needs to kick start 2014.
As Stephen Covey said, "Begin with the end in mind." Motivate management and employees this year by setting clear goals, challenge them to attain those goals and then track and share achievements to enjoy a successful 2014.

How do you set goals for the year?

Monday, January 06, 2014

Show Me the Sources

There’s an old saying in the market research industry: “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.” If you’re not sure what that means, take a look at a good post this week on Fast Company’s design blog about infographics and how misleading they can be.

We’ve written previously on The PR Lawyer about the power of “showing instead of telling,” and infographics continue to be a fantastic way to quickly present often complicated information to an audience that’s short on time or attention. The problem, as the Fast Company post illustrates, is that the visual channel employed by infographics can also be used to mislead.

The best way to guard against this in your data presentations, visual or otherwise, is to cite your sources. Whenever possible, the citations should be presented in conjunction with the visual data you’re presenting. In some formats, though, this isn’t possible without crowding the data or compromising readability.

If that’s the case, borrow a page from academia’s playbook and put a “Notes” slide or section at the conclusion of your slide deck or infographic. At a bare minimum, provide a link to a web page or other document that provides the sources for your data. If you collected and compiled the data yourself, have a description of your methodology available. What did you count? Who did you survey? When, and for how long? How did you filter the results?

If you’re presenting to a live audience, keep a handful of hard copies of this information on hand. If someone asks for it, you don’t want to be caught empty-handed.

Even if your infographic’s data is ironclad and properly sourced, be careful about using visual cues to make ideas appear more important than they may actually be. Emphasizing information that bolsters the message you’re sending is fine. It’s better than fine – it is, in fact, exactly what you should be doing. Just be mindful that when you push that method too far, the lens you provide your audience stops merely presenting a particular viewpoint and instead begins to distort. When you do that, a perceptive audience will tune you out … or worse.

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