AAN Design Professionals Get Advice on Fair Use

“You guys are tough,” said Judy Endejan at one point in her June 26 seminar, “How To Avoid Stepping Into an Intellectual Property Mess in the Design/Construction Process.” Despite providing a weighty handout packet on trademark and copyright law and sharing numerous examples of cases relevant to alternative news media, the Seattle attorney found that the design and production employees attending the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention still wanted to know more.

One AAN member posed the following scenario: What if her publication needed a picture of a dog for a house ad, and she found the picture she wanted on someone’s personal Web site? “Say it’s Jamie’s Web site, and Jamie loves her dog and posts all these pictures on her site. Can we use one of her pictures?” asked the woman.

According to Endejan, it all depends on how the paper uses the photo. “You don’t own a copyright in what a dog looks like,” she said. “You only own a copyright in how you position the dog.”

In a world where, as Endejan put it, “copyright law and the First Amendment smack into each other all the time,” context is everything. Alternative newsweeklies often use parody and other copyright gray areas to convey their ideas. When they’ve gone out of bounds is not always clear. Endejan tried to share enough scenarios to give the audience the tools to recognize the subtle red flags of infringement (just remember, if your use of copyrighted material causes economic harm to its owner by supplanting his market, you’re in trouble).

Topping off the seminar with a lightning round of guess-which-parody-is-lawsuit- resistant, Endejan had the room thinking and asking questions, which is perhaps the best safeguard against falling into an intellectual property mess.

Nora Ankrum is a proofreader at The Austin Chronicle in Texas. In her spare time she copyedits the zine Two Note Solo.