A Hidden Danger in Legal Blogging: Trademarks in Images

For being professional legal bloggers, we sure seem to talk an awful lot about images. It should come as no surprise, though, considering how important they are to a blog post: They break up what would otherwise be a wall of text, engage the reader, and serve as another opportunity to score some SEO points.

Just as importantly, though, images can be dangerous to your legal blog and your law firm. Copyright infringement is one of those dangers.

Using someone else’s trademark is another, and it is incredibly easy to do accidentally.

But First: Trademarks

A trademark is something that identifies a company. It can be a word (often the company’s name), logo, or even a phrase.

Unlike copyrights, a trademark lasts for as long as the company uses it to distinguish itself from competitors. In theory, a trademark could last forever. Also unlike copyrights, trademarks do not have to be registered with the government. While there are benefits to registering a trademark, it isn’t necessary.

However, the use of trademarks can be controlled in similar ways and for similar purposes as a copyright can be controlled. In the eyes of the law, using a trademark insinuates an endorsement by the trademark’s owner – something that is likely to raise the owner’s wrath. Unauthorized use of a trademark, therefore, can easily lead to legal action by the trademark owner for “dilution.”

Trademarks, Images, and Legal Blogs

What does this have to do with images and legal blogs?

Many images on the internet – even those that are licensed for commercial use – have trademarks hidden in them. Like this one (hint: The shoes in the foreground). Or this one (Dimplex is a company that makes dart flights – the plastic tail “feathers”).

In some images, the trademark isn’t even hidden.

Of course, there are permissible uses of a trademark. Just like with copyrights, it is possible to make “fair use” of a trademark. However, just like with copyrights, what constitutes “fair use” is notoriously vague. One thing that isn’t vague about the fair use of trademarks, though, is that commercial speech is not included.

One thing that is almost definitely commercial speech: Your legal blog.

Another Reason to Hire Professional Legal Bloggers

Using an image with a trademark in it can lead to legal action against your law firm – an embarrassing outcome that can tarnish your firm’s reputation. It’s a lot of risk to put an image in your blog.

Things would be bad enough if you could count on photographers to avoid trademarks or blur them out before releasing them with such broad licenses. Unfortunately, as the photos above attest, that is just not the case. Many photographers are unaware of the dangers they are creating. Throwing your hands up and pointing your finger at a poorly-licensed photo, though, is not going to get you very far in a trademark case.

The professional legal bloggers at Myers Freelance know to scout the corners of an image before using it in a legal blog, and how to creatively craft a blog post to seamlessly incorporate what would otherwise be a seemingly random image.

Scouting for trademarks in legal blog images

Leave a Reply