A situation I run into often at work is explaining why just because you found an photo or video on the Internet, you can’t necessarily use it for a client’s work. To me it’s obvious, but I’m an art buyer and also a photographer so it’s an issue I have to be aware of. To many though, there is a disconnect as to why this is a potentially huge deal. Most of the time, you could probably use an image and it wouldn’t ever be an issue especially if it’s for internal use or in a presentation. Not that that means it’s okay, but the chances that you would get called on it can be slim. Copyright violation aside, you also may have little information as to the context or source of the photo or video. When you do get caught, the financial cost or reputation damage can excede any out of pocket budget expense or time saved.
Recently Nikon was faced with this problem when rolling out it’s latest Pro DSLR the D800. This camera is positioned as a direct competitor to the Canon 5D MkII (and now MkIII) both in the still and video markets. The sample photos and video footage that Nikon released were amazing. It was getting a lot of buzz. When the D800 was officially unveiled at a large press event, a video reel was shown with what one would naturally assume was photos and video shot with the camera. Though once footage of the video was uploaded to YouTube trouble started to pop up. Two different videographers notice that footage they shot was used without their permission. As if that wasn’t problematic enough, it also was revealed by these two individuals that the footage was not from a Nikon camera. One set of clips was shot with a Phantom HD Gold and the other was from Nikon’s direct competitor the, Canon 5D. In fact the the videographer who shot the 5D footage is actually sponsored by Canon. Ouch.
I doubt that Nikon produced the video reel used at the launch themselves. My suspicion (which is solely based on my experience in ad and PR agencies, not on any direct info about this situation) is that their advertising or PR agency put it together. Assuming that is the case, I can imagine a general scenario that led up to this issue:
PR/Ad agency: “Here is the latest edit of the video. Let us know what you think. We’re getting down to the wire on this deadline for having it ready for the launch event. Let us know what you think.”
Nikon: “Looks great! My only concern is that there isn’t enough action sports footage. Can we add some in?”
PR/Ad agency: “Good point. I’ll see what we can do.”
PR/Ad Agency editor: “We don’t have any of that kind of footage from the client. I found some stuff on the web we can use though.”
PR/Ad agency: “New edit attached.”
Nikon: “Perfect! This is good to go!”
I’m being overly simplistic here, but the point is assumptions were definitely made and shortcuts were clearly taken. Both by the producers of the video and by Nikon. This lead to an story that made the rounds of the photo blogs and social media quickly. To Nikon’s credit, they immediately took action to make the situation right with the copyright owners and everyones seems satisfied.
More so that the legal issues, I think that the damage to reputation and perception of Nikon’s products is the bigger problem. They are playing catch-up in the DSLR video market. To use footage shot by their competitor for a camera that is supposed to compete with it has given the Nikon vs. Canon debate all kinds of fodder. The moral of the story is use photos or footage that you have permission to use by the copyright holders, as well as details of the origin and or context photo or footage. Otherwise you’re potentially setting yourself and your client up for some big trouble.
Note: I also posted this on my photo blog F3M3.