Chances of legal trouble are low but experts say the safest thing to do is make sure you don’t have any copyrighted images in the background.
Now that your video conference backdrop is a permanent part of your daily work life, there are no more excuses for sloppiness. Make sure your lighting is good. Remove any personally identifiable information. Take a few minutes to clear the clutter and create a pleasing frame for your onscreen self.
Finally, it’s smart to do a scan for any brand logos or trademarked images, particularly if you’re recording any of your video meetings. If you’re posting a conversation or presentation for viewing at a later time, you don’t want to have to recut your video or blur an object or name brand.
That’s what reality TV shows do occasionally. Sometimes the issue is that a competitor has paid for product placement rights. In other instances, the TV show producer doesn’t want to risk any complaints from a company that didn’t agree to have its brand appear in a show.
The stakes are different for a business professional working at home. In most circumstances, a copyrighted image or trademarked product is not central to the topic of the video, which provides some legal leeway.
Adam Sacharoff, a lawyer and chair of the intellectual property and technology practice at Much Shelist, said that it’s important to consider the context of how a brand or trademark appears in a video recording. He used the example of him being recorded while speaking on a legal issue while wearing a Cubs hat and displaying a can of Coke on his desk and a Buzz Lightyear toy on his bookshelf. In this example, the brands are not related to the subject of discussion. Sacharoff said that the owners of those brands probably would not send a cease-and-desist letter.
He said the situation would be different if the video was about the dangers of drinking and driving and a bottle of alcohol was sitting on a shelf behind the speaker.
“In that circumstance, I am sure the company would not appreciate having its product appear in that video recording and could raise concerns, probably not trademark infringement but other issues,” he said.
Sacharoff said that it’s important to remember that standards are in the eye of the brand or trademark owner and not the person making the video.
“While you may have defenses to help answer accusations of infringement or other causes of action, the owner still has the legal right to make an initial demand that the video be edited or removed,” he said.
He said the easiest way to avoid these claims is to remove the content to avoid legal issues.
“If you’re setting up a video recording, the best practice is to pause and move items out of camera shot to avoid any issues,” he said.
Artwork can sometimes pose a different legal issue than brand names or logos, as Andy Dehnart explains in his blog about reality TV. Most artwork is copyrighted, which means the creator can control how the piece is displayed or used. The fair use doctrine comes into play in some of these situations. This means that the public can display copyrighted material for commentary or criticism.
According to the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center, judges use four criteria to determine if a brand or copyrighted image falls into the fair use category. The four factors judges consider are:
- The purpose and character of the use
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
- The effect of the use upon the potential market
The center’s advice on fair use also notes that a judge has a great deal of freedom when making a fair use determination, so outcomes of these cases can be hard to predict.