The ecards are all over Facebook, and illustrate so perfectly what one is thinking or how we're feeling at the moment, so they're popular social "shares".
For a small business owner, they can provide a perfect visual to include on their website to translate a brand's message, yet look modern, hip, snarky, and with-it. The trouble is, a business can't publish an ecard from someecards.com on their website. Even if they write the snarky copy themselves.
Heartbreaking, I know. But ever since we received "the Getty unauthorized use letter" and had to fork over an unplanned amount of money for the rights to publish a photo (one we thought was random and "from the Internet"), we are very careful now about what images we use from the web, and have even taken to making our own at times. However, here at Tin Shingle, we do have a platform for our small business members to publish their own articles which can include images. So we need to watch for those as well to make sure that those images are published in accordance with the rights associated to them, if any exist. And if the rights aren't granted, we must remove the image. This recently led us to wondering about the rights of the ever popular someecards usage in blog and content posts.
Knowing that someecards.com was popular with our small business friends, I checked their Terms of Service. But those were a little bit less than super clear (I needed 110% clarity), so I emailed the folks at someecards.com for clarification. Of the four email addresses they give on their Contact page, I picked "firstname.lastname@example.org" because I'm sure they deal with rights management a lot, and it's not a fun topic. One of the co-founders, Duncan Mitchell, wrote me back. He said:
"Cards are for personal use only. If you have a blog/FB page/community page or anything else that you do to promote content, ideas, products, or a point of view to wider audience you need permission to use our content. It doesn't matter if they create the card themselves or not, they don't have a license from us to publish the card."
As of now, according to Duncan, pretty much no one has permission, so don't think that reading the Terms of Service gives you permission. Or that you assumed that you probably clicked some "I accept" box which had the permission woven in.
Another reason why I suggest following their rules? As my sister (who works at a law firm) can tell you, though she didn't usually agree, I am a stickler for respecting the rights of artists. I never downloaded free music or movies. I knew it would financially cripple the these industries and it did.
Here's why there is so much confusion: with websites, any intellectual property on it seems free. With so many free models out there, one expects free usage of anything. And that's changing. Businesses can't exist on free, and the ones who exist on free probably have a lot of venture capital behind them, and an IPO down the road. Businesses like Getty are clamping down on the free, unauthorized usage of everything. As advocates of small businesses, we don't want to see any unexpected cost hit you up in the mail.
Duncan went on to further clarify the position of someecards.com, because he knows that it's tough to hear, when images are so easily shared online:
"It costs a lot of money to run our business. A lot more than people might think. In order to make the business work, we charge money to create marketing programs for big brands. When people take the content and use it for free, it hurts our business, because a big brand will ask why they should pay when a small business just does it for free. We haven't found a way to make this work for small businesses yet unfortunately, but maybe some day down the road. Content can be used free on personal pages, but for businesses, community pages, and anything other than a personal profile, you need permission to use our content."
I do hope that an idea strikes regarding how someecards.com can offer permission for small businesses to publish their images. Maybe they can offer a 10-pack bundle of self-written ecards to be used for promotional purposes with proper, linked credits back. And maybe for a higher dollar amount, a small business can splurge on the shared-rights to content created by the brains at someecards.com. If big brands are paying for content to be created by the brains at someecards.com, that's some original content right there that can't be used by anyone else, and wasn't thought of by anyone else but the people at someecards.com.
But monitoring all that is all expensive. So back to settling on coffee mugs for now we go!
Most importantly, thanks to someecards.com, for being so darn clever.