It’s not always free.

Some people in Brunei Darussalam may have unknowingly been skirting dangerously close with copyright infringement by using pictures taken from Google Images for their publications, websites, campaigns or promotions.

Did you know that just because it’s on Google, doesn’t mean that you can use it?

We recently posed this question to a cross section of the Brunei community, and we were surprised by their response:

“Whenever I needed to find a photo for a project, I would just copy and paste high-resolution images found on Google Images.”

“What’s so wrong about using photos that I can easily find from Google? It’s on the Internet so I can take it!”

In light of the public’s response above, we believe that there is a need to promote copyright education and awareness among the general population.

Copyright has been a hot topic in social media and online forums such as Reddit after a Hong Kong-based designer, Marc Allante, alleged that Brunei-based sportswear company Headhunter Sport had taken original artwork from international designers.

On June 1, the Brunei-based sportswear company issued a public apology via its social media platforms.

The following is a simple Q&A that we’ve compiled to help the general public get a better understanding about copyright:

Question: So what exactly is copyright?

According to the Brunei Darussalam Intellectual Property Office (BruIPO), copyright (or author’s right) is a form of Intellectual Property (IP) and is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works.

Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.

In most countries, including Brunei, copyright protection is obtained automatically without the need for registration or other formalities.

Whilst BruIPO is responsible for the registration of industrial property (patents, trademarks and industrial designs), copyright on the other hand, is under the purview of Brunei’s Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).

Question: And what about copyright protection?

According to the AGC, copyright and related rights protection is obtained automatically without any need for registration or other formalities.

Unlike other types of intellectual property such as trademark, patent or industrial designs where these types of intellectual property must be registered for protection, copyright and related rights are unique where, the moment you create a work, it is automatically protected.

Therefore, everything that you write (or draw or paint or whatever) regardless of whether it is an e-mail, a recording, an image, a thesis, a web page, or anything else, is automatically copyright protected.

Not only that, works created in Brunei will have protection in other countries who are a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention. This would mean that your copyright or related rights is already protected in most countries without having to ‘register’ or go to those countries.

Brunei is a party to both the WTO and Berne Convention.

Question: Isn’t attributing the photo to its original source in the caption good enough?

According to a report by LifeLearn, the short answer is not always.

The safest bet is to assume that, unless something clearly states otherwise, anything published online is protected by copyright law. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Doing any of the following things may not always relieve your practice from liability:

  • Attributing the photo to the original photographer/illustrator in the caption.
  • Linking the photo back to the original source.
  • Making changes to the copyrighted image.
  • Only using the image on social media.
  • Placing a disclaimer on your website stating that you don’t own any of the photos and that all rights belong to the original creator.
  • Embedding the photo into your website using the original source URL instead of hosting it on your server.
  • Uploading a smaller-version/thumbnail of the image.
  • Using an image that doesn’t have a copyright symbol or watermark on it. The lack of copyright notice does not indicate that the image is free to use.
  • Taking the image down immediately following a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice. Taking the image down is necessary but does not remove your liability.

Question: So where can you find free graphics or photos?

Our recommendation would be Pexels, a website that provides free stock photos to help millions of creators all over the world to easily create beautiful products and designs.

It’s hard to understand complex licences that is why all photos on Pexels are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.

  • The pictures are free for personal and even for commercial use.
  • You can modify, copy and distribute the photos.
  • All without asking for permission or setting a link to the source. So, attribution is not required.

The only restriction is that identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that they may find offensive, unless they give their consent. You should also make sure the depicted content (people, logos, private property, etc) is suitable for your application and doesn’t infringe any rights.

Also, because the content is free, there is no guarantee that what you decide to use is unique. Other people may be using the same images for their own use. As a business, this may not be such a good idea if you’re trying to stand out in the market by being original.

The CC0 licence was released by the non-profit organisation, Creative Commons. More information about Creative Commons images and the licence can be found here.

Question: Maybe I don’t want photos or graphics under a Creative Commons licence. What are my options?

(1) Paid service.

Many companies sell royalty-free (RF) licence for stock images from their collections such as Shutterstock, 123rf and Getty Images.

RF licence grants non-exclusive, unlimited and multiple use of an image, with few restrictions. It’s a one-time fee that allows perpetual use of the image in all the permitted ways. You can then use the licensed material for your own company, website or for advertisement. These licensed images are usually called royalty-free images and are different to rights managed images.

Due to the non-exclusivity that allows to sell as many licences to the same photo as buyers are willing to buy, images sold under RF licence are widely distributed across stock photo agencies, and priced at low (and flat) rates. For this reason they are also often in use by different people, companies and brands at the same time, in different ways.

(2) Freelancers.

Whether you need a new logo, a stunning web page, or a flashy advertisement, professionally designed visuals make the right first impression and can leave a lasting impact.

However, it may feel a little bit intimidating to hire a freelance graphic designer, creative or photographer if you don’t know much about the creative industry.

Freelancers work on a per contract basis. Instead of working for an employer, a freelancer works on multiple projects for different clients.

(3) Commissions.

Commissions are agreements that photographers make with clients to shoot a specific location for them. They pay you (the photographer) an agreed amount of money, and you spend the time to visit and shoot the location according to their wishes.

(4) Media agencies.

The Associated Press (AP)Agence France Presse (AFP)Reuters and German Press Agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) are some of the leading media agencies that provide photos for a fee. Reputable news agencies such as the ones mentioned should have all the imagery you need, including award-winning photos.

(5) Creative agencies. 

Creative agencies can specialise in a variety of fields such as branding, marketing, production, graphic design, copywriting and media. They can usually offer more than just a single photograph or artwork, such as a full branding exercise or advertising campaign. If you require a more holistic approach to your design needs, creative agencies are a good (and sometimes quite cost-effective) option, where they will have a streamlined approach towards bringing on a partner to tackle your problems.

(6) Do-It-Yourself.

When all else fails, you may consider taking the photos or designing the artwork yourself. Although, unless you are an expert, we’d probably advise you to save time and frustration from taking on this task alone.

Question: This is still a bit confusing. Is there anyone I can talk to about this?

(1) Talk to your local copyright office.

BruIPO is responsible for the registration of patents, trademarks, industrial designs and plant varieties protection (PVP) as well as the implementation of international registration systems under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), Madrid Protocol (trademark) and the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs, which are all administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

BruIPO was set up on June 1, 2013 in an effort to restructure the national IP administration.

Among the aims of the BruIPO are:

  • To provide a clear, accessible and widely understood patent system that protects ideas and innovation.
  • To raise awareness on the benefits and protection of trademarks and industrial designs and to use them to enhance business growth and competitiveness.
  • To promote and develop an ‘IP Culture’ where creativity and innovation can flourish.
  • To establish partnership with the relevant stakeholders in support of the national innovation ecosystem.​

For more information, visit the websites of BruIPO or Attorney General’s Chambers.

(2) Talk to professionals.

Hoco Agency, a digital communications consultancy in Brunei, has a wealth of experience building recognisable brands and campaigns in the country.

As part of their initiative towards championing the growth and rights of the creative industry, they are more than happy to provide insights on these matters, or any other related issues concerning the creative and media industry. Click here to get in touch with them for a FREE consult.

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