RMT Tech Talk: Copyright laws – how to avoid infringement

Jessica Foster
November 14, 2018
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RMT Tech Talk: Copyright laws – how to avoid infringement
Photo: Getty Images
We often hear about clients receiving threatening correspondence from legal entities about misusing copyrighted material on their website or social media platforms. These letters typically demand that they immediately stop using the copyrighted material and pay the owner a hefty fine amounting to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Practitioners have even received letters for using copyrighted material in their printed intake forms.

In most cases, the practitioner has no idea they did anything wrong, but they are obligated to stop using the material and pay the fine. The most common mistake occurs when a practitioner finds an image while searching the web, then assumes, because it is displayed publicly, that it is free to use on their website or social media – not realizing that someone owns the rights to the image and it is not “free” for others to reproduce and use.

We’ll explore the basics of copyright laws and how to legally use images and other material within your practice. This information is not intended as legal advice but rather as guidelines on the subject matter.

The first rule of thumb: When you find an image or other content you would like to use on your website, never assume it is free to use – instead, assume it is owned by someone and cannot be used without their permission.

Copyright laws vary by country and are intended to protect creative properties (i.e. images, written content, videos, etc.), and define the ownership of those properties and their uses. In short, if you take a photograph or create some original written content, you own it and have exclusive rights to use it. No one else can legally reproduce or publish it without your permission. Conversely, if you use a photo taken by someone else, without their permission, you will be infringing their copyright.

It is not difficult to legally acquire the rights to use copyright material within your practice, including on your website and social media. In the case of images, there are many commercial stock image sites out there, with relevant images, where you can economically purchase a license giving you the right to use them.

Keep in mind there are different types of licences available depending upon your needs. The most common and cost-effective license is a “royalty free” license. Royalty free does not mean that it comes at no cost – they provide you with the rights to use the image for a flat one-time fee. This means you pay for the license once and you can use it forever, within the scope of the license, without any further payment obligations. Often the cost of the license will be tiered, based on how the image will be used, (online or printed) or by the size/resolution of the image. Depending on the license you purchase, your use of the image may be limited to a certain medium. (i.e. you can post it to your website, but you cannot use it in a printed brochure.)

Royalty-free licenses provide you with the rights to use the image, but they do not transfer the copyright or ownership of the images to you. Which means that you cannot share the image with someone else for their use.

Be aware that there are “free” stock photo sites that grant you rights to use their images at no cost without purchasing a license. However, in most cases these are free for personal use only and you will be fined if you use them commercially (this applies even if you use them strictly for promotional purposes).

Another way to avoid copyright issues on your website and social media is to use original material. While this can be costlier (but doesn’t have to be), it will provide you with a more personable online presence. By publishing images of your clinic’s storefront, reception area, treatment rooms, practitioners, etc., you give your site a friendlier and more inviting feel. It’s important to get anyone appearing in your photos (even friends, family, or staff members) to sign a model release giving you the right to use their image for commercial purposes both online and in print. This will protect you and avoid problems down the road.

There are also website and practice management vendors that offer pre-written, search engine friendly, website content including relevant images that are already licensed for use on their platform. This approach provides you with an “instant site” where you are free to use their content without worrying about infringing upon someone’s copyright. If you wish, you can simply modify the generic content to personalize the site to suit your practice. Be sure to carefully read the fine print on the vendors’ terms of use, as there are often restrictions on how the content can be used. In most cases this is restricted to use on their platform only.

At the end of the day, be sure that you are properly licensed to use whatever content you are publishing on your website and social media platforms. In the long term, it will save you time, money and heartache.


Jessica Foster writes on behalf of mindZplay Solutions, provider of massage therapy websites and practice management solutions. To learn more, visit www.massagemanedger.com

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