How Product Managers Can Avoid Going To Jail For Copyright Violations

The difference between borrowing & stealing at times can be unclear
The difference between borrowing & stealing at times can be unclear

As product managers we all know by now that social media, in all of its different flavors, is hot, hot, hot. We are being encouraged by our companies to do more social media activities in support of our products: blogging, facebooking (is that even a word?), using Tumbler, and perhaps even spending time on LinkedIn all as part of the product development definition. This is all fine and good, but is there a chance that because of all of this online social media activity you might end up going to jail?

How Copyright Violations Can Trip Up A Product Manager

We’ve all heard about how important it is to respect other people’s copyrights, but what does that really mean? In a nutshell, what it comes down to is that you don’t want to use a photograph, words, music, etc. that belongs to someone else even with attribution if you don’t have the author’s authorization.

We’ve all heard about those stories where people have shared a few downloaded songs online and then been taken to court and charged millions of dollars. As product managers, we don’t want to go anywhere near this stuff – our jobs are hard enough without the extra hassle of having the copyright police be on the hunt for us — that wouldn’t look good on your product manager resume.

Product managers can make copyright mistakes. All too often the reason for this is because they simply didn’t take the time to look into what they needed to do. One of the reasons that they didn’t do the research that they should have, is simply because they feared that their legal obligations might not be as broad as they were hoping.

How To Avoid Making Copyright Violations

Given that you are a product manager who is churning out web sites, brochures, one pages, etc. all the time, how can you avoid copyright violations? The first thing that you need to get right in your head is that if, on your product’s blog, you post someone else’s intellectual property no matter what format it comes in, then you are basically stealing it.

The good news is that there are a number of steps that a product manager can take that will allow you to use other people’s work without violating their copyrights:


  • Look For Creative Commons: The folks over at Creative Commons have come up with a number of standardized and streamlined licensing solutions for material that an author is willing to share.



  • Use Flickr / Picasa / Morgefile: These image sharing sites have well over 100 Million images that have been identified by their creators as being available for sharing using stated guidelines. If your tastes tend towards other forms of media that you’d like to use then check out Vimeo, SoundCloud, SpinXpress, and Wikimedia Commons as additional sources.



  • Perform The Correct Searches: Make sure that the only material that you see when you are looking for the perfect image is something that you can legally use. You can do this by using the “advanced search” option when using Google. Click on “usage rights” and take it one step further and select “free to use or share”. You can be extra careful by going to sites that only search content that you can use. A great example of this is



  • <strongAsk: If you find content that you would like to use on your product’s blog or in a presentation, but it’s not been marked as being free to reuse, then sometimes all you have to do is reach out to the author and ask for permission to use their work. We all want to become famous, and sometimes people will let you use their work for free just to get a bit closer to the fame that they want.


What All Of This Means For You

Yes, social media is probably here to stay. As product managers creating and interacting with social media has become a part of the product manager job description. However, as we move into this new world, we need to take care to not get ourselves into legal problems.

The use of material that others have created without their permission (words, images, music, etc.) constitutes a copyright violation. In order to prevent problems, product managers should restrict the material that they use to that which is covered by the creative commons licensing agreement. Limiting your web searches so that you don’t even seen material that you shouldn’t be using along with simply asking for permission is a great way to prevent problems before they occur.

We all want our social media efforts to generate the biggest bang for the buck. However, using material that we didn’t create ourselves can get us into trouble quickly. Take the time to make sure that you can use the material that you find online and you’ll save yourself a world of hurt later on…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If some material says that you don’t have to give credit to the author when you use it, should you do so anyway?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When I say “Volvo” to you, what do you think of first? I’m willing to bet that some form of the word “safety” comes to mind. Ok, now when I say your product’s name to you, what comes into your mind? Hmm, not quite the same – it looks like your product doesn’t have the same instant recognition that Volvo has. So much for adding that to your product manager resume. I wonder how they got such a strong association and I wonder how you could do the same for your product?