There are a number of legal implications one must consider when creating digital graphics and particularly when using images and graphics created by other people. Initiatives such as the Creative Commons aim to make copyright issues less frequent, and to make the sharing of creations openly more simple. Below I have explored copyright in the scenario of a game development studio and the designers working for it.
If the rights to an image are held by the company, one can most likely use the image in promotional material. In particularly large organisations which are divided into several subsidiaries of a larger parent business, this may become more complex, but for a small single-entity company, the designer's content would likely automatically belong to the business, and they would be able to use the company's copyrighted content. Issues arise when designers not employed by the business or otherwise associated with it, and who have not sought permission to use an image, have used creative content in their own creations. In a lot of cases, the logos for companies can be reproduced without issue, as this provides free advertisement, in many cases, for the brand. Occasionally, however, logos must be licensed before they can be used, even for something such as a game release poster.
Permission can often be obtained from the copyright holders, free-of-charge or for a fee, allowing one to use an image, music, text, etc. in derivative work. Conditions change between different cases, but when permission is obtained, attribution is almost always required. A party may be able to pay a higher fee to the copyright holder, however, in order to be free of this responsibility. Fair use policy also dictates that not all usage of copyrighted content is necessarily copyright infringement. Often used in defence by a party accused of copyright infringement, fair use states that excerpts of text, for example, can be quoted in another work granted that attribution is given. More information about fair use in the UK can be found on the UK Copyright Service website.
Permission to use copyrighted content in derivative work is often given for a specific case. The intended use of the content is usually outlined beforehand, and the party acquiring the permission would be breaking the terms of a contract if they were to use the content outside of the specified context. Acquiring permission once does not grant a party to use copyrighted property repeatedly either, or at least for a longer timer period than specified.
When one takes photographs of people in public or private, other issues can arise. A photo taken in public of a person, even if they are clearly identifiable, does not require a "release" to be signed by the subject for most used of the photo. The image can be reproduced and published, but in order for it to be distributed for profit, one must have signed permission from the subject. An example of a case in which a release would be required is clothing photography for a clothing shop. The models would be the subject of images used by the company in order to generate profit, and they would therefore need to sign a photo release, granting specific permissions to the photographer to distribute the photo appropriately and allow others to re-license the image.
When creating the logo and poster as part of the second assignment in the Digital Graphics unit, I used four images sourced from the internet:
|visibleearth.nasa.gov, www.freehdbackgrounds.net||One of the most iconic photographs of Earth, the famed Blue Marble image is property of NASA's. It can be found on the NASA website, as well as other such as the linked wallpaper website. NASA allows for use of its intellectual property for educational purposes, as well as others, which I would classify the poster as. Were the game not fictional, I would seek direct permission from NASA for the image's use, or find a royalty free alternative.||NASA's Earth Observatory, education purposes|
|www.spacetelescope.org||An image taken by the Hubble telescope and published on the ESA website. The image shows clusters of stars in the NGC 4449 galaxy. The image is accompanied by the ESA's image license, linked in the next table cell. The image is used fairly with credit given to the the ESA and Space Telescope website.||Creative Commons-based license, described here.|
|www.scifi-meshes.com, space.desktopnexus.com||The image is a work-in-progress render of the starship Icarus, created as part of a fan-driven project to create a shot film based in the Stargate universe. The model and render were created by user -=sAs=- on the Sci-Fi Meshes forum. The thread link is provided to the left.||Image used under fair use policy. Permission would be sought in a real commercial environment.|
|commons.wikimedia.org||The image is of cumulus clouds, found using Google Images' license search option.||By Joydeep (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.|
In a real situation, the content I created and the permissions to use and re-license it would probably belong to my employer or client, the game development studio. In order to use the images I created, derived from other images, permission and probably commercial licensing would need to be sourced from the original copyright holders of the images listed above. One of the images – the cloud photograph – is already distributed under a Creative Commons license, which allows the use of the image and derivatives for commercial use. Attribution would need to be given to the original author, "Joydeep", wherever the logo was used.
Using copyrighted content without having acquired permission can have a number of implications. On YouTube, for example, a video containing copyrighted music cannot be monetized by the uploader if the Content ID system recognises the track. This can be very damaging to gaming channels who have used music entirely legally and given attribution, but whose video may still be marked as infringing. The most revenue from a video watched by regular subscribers is generated in the first few days of a video being published. If a video is marked for copyright infringement, the dispute process can take several days, by which point a channel will have missed out on the vast majority of income the video would have otherwise generated. A video can be made private, but this means that the channel's upload schedule will be broken, and in turn have a very damaging effect on viewer counts. Having videos identified by the Content ID system also adds a strike to a user's account. Three strikes will result in an account suspension, which can spell the end of a video creator's income.
In the case of a gaming company releasing promotional material containing copyrighted content, more drastic consequences are felt. The publisher may be sued by the copyright holder and requested to pay fines for the profit generated as a result of using content without permission. Other organisations such as social networks may suspend the accounts of the infringing party if the copyrighted content appears on the network. In most cases, the material containing the copyrighted content is removed, and potentially re-uploaded after correct permission has been obtained or the material has been altered to comply with copyright law.
Information about copyright law legislation in Britain can be found on the GOV.UK website. One of the most relevant pieces of legislation is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Although it may appear to be out of date, considering that it was initially brought into action in 1989, but the legislation has been revised several times. The act specifies how copyright is created and automatically given to creative works. It also defines how permission to use copyrighted material can be obtained, and how the rights to intellectual property can be reserved and registered.