Copyright and trademark questions are some of the most interesting that I receive (and hardest to answer because there are so many nuances and I’m not lawyer). They are important questions, too, because bloggers, especially new ones, need to be aware that just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs and free to use. Today’s question about whether couponing blogs can legally use logos is a good one. I asked Rajean Blomquist to research and write the answer to this common conundrum. She spoke with industry expert Lucretia Pruitt, founder of Social Media Matters, to get to the bottom of the issue. Please welcome Rajean as this week’s guest blogger. ~ Melanie
The Question: Can I legally use company logos on my couponing blog?
Dear BB101, I started a couponing blog and I am unsure about the use of images. I don’t really understand what is legal and what isn’t (besides using my own photos). Since it’s a couponing blog I’ll be discussing many companies and products. Can I use their logos legally? It seems like all the couponing blogs do, but I am not sure they should be. What’s the answer?
The Answer: Yes, you can legally use company logos on your couponing blog.
This is such a great question! Coupon sites are making it easier for consumers to save money and try new products, mostly from the comfort of their homes before ever hitting the stores — or from the convenience of their smart phones while in the stores. How brilliant is that? The fact is, we live in a multibillion-dollar coupon industry. Consumers are spending billions while also saving a ton of money. Just last year, 3.3 billion coupons were redeemed according to Coupons.com.
When I started researching the answer to this question, it seemed appropriate to seek the knowledge of someone who counsels others about all things online, so I asked Lucretia Pruitt, Founder Social Media Matters, for her take on this blogger’s question. She explains the reader is really asking two questions: one is about photo copyright, and the other is about trademark use.
Photos and images on the Internet are subject to copyright laws in the US and other countries, making them somewhat different than logos, brand names, and catchphrases that are registered as trademarks.
According to Pruitt, there are three main types of photos/images you find on the Internet:
- Copyrighted images have either all or some rights reserved. You must have the copyright holder’s permission to use these images.
- Public domain images are those that no longer have copyright protection either because they aged out of it (max. 120 years) or for some other reason. Anyone can use these images.
- Creative Commons (CC) licensed images are copyrighted pictures that the creator has marked using a specific Creative Commons license. The type of license determines how you can use the image. Pruitt boils it down even further explaining that the three elements of a CC license are:
- whether or not you can make derivatives (i.e., change or modify the image), and
- whether or not you can use the image for commercial use.
At a minimum, you have to attribute the creator (i.e., Photo by Bob Smith) and include a link. You’ll notice this article has an image at the top of the article. That image was found via the PhotoDropper plug-in for WordPress. That plug-in takes keywords you type in, then searches Flickr for Creative Commons images that match. You can then insert the image into your post and the plug-in creates an auto-attribute (you’ll see the one for the copyright image down at the bottom of this article — it looks like this: photo credit: gabrieldeurioste).
Pruitt notes, “If you are making money off of [your blog], you will also need to have the work approved for commercial use.” This is important to bloggers because a hobby blogger can use a Creative Commons image that has non-commercial conditions, but bloggers who make money from their blogs cannot.
Now back to logos and trademarks. Wikipedia gives a succinct definition of a trademark: “A trademark is typically a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image or a combination of these elements.” Any company (large or small) investing time and money into trademarking their logo will be protective of how their logos are used. As a blogger, when you’re writing about a brand, you will be using their name and other trademarks like their logo under the “Fair Use” doctrine.
Specifically, Pruitt says fair use of a logo or other trademark (not to be confused with copyright) may be asserted on two grounds:
- You are using the mark to describe accurately an aspect of your own product, or
- You are using the mark to identify the actual mark owner.
It’s the second one that really applies here. “If you are using say, the logo for ‘Campbell’s ® Chunky ™ Soup’ you’d probably be using it to refer to their actual soup. So what you are doing is covered under Fair Use of a Trademark,” according to Pruitt.
But you’ll note the phrase in quotations above has an ® and a ™ in it. Yes, those two words are trademarks of that company. So when you write about that brand, you should make sure to do it the way that it’s written above. If you’re not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution and go check the brand’s website. That’s probably where you are getting the logo from in the first place, so it’s just a quick check to see how they refer to the product or brand name.
Trademark and logo use violations are unintentional in most cases. But you don’t want to invite legal action by blatant misuse of a logo or image. A majority of deal or coupon websites seek permission to use a company logo as part of the deal contract.
Any time you are not sure about using a company’s logo or image, ask or consider that perhaps you don’t really need the logo anyway. You can promote a discount or coupon offered by simply using the company name.
Disclaimer: Lucretia and I are not lawyers, but this is our understanding of how it all works. If you need specific legal advice, you should contact an attorney. Better to protect you now than defend you later — or all that money you save using coupons and taking advantage of daily deals could be spent on legal fees.