Are Colleges Committing Copyright Infringement?

Linkilaw Intellectual Property

To most observers, it would seem almost incomprehensible that an entity as prestigious as a college could or would violate copyright laws in its advertising.


But, the digital world and especially social media have made it more likely for copyright infringement to occur and it’s something colleges must be careful of just like anyone else. If they do violate copyright laws in their advertising, the consequences won’t just be felt legally but in other specific ways too, which we’ll address throughout this post.


In this post, we’re going to explore how some colleges are treading dangerous ground with their advertising and why they must be more prudent in how they promote themselves and their courses.


How Colleges Are Treading Upon Dangerous Copyright Laws


Firstly, let’s look at what constitutes advertising.


Advertising is essentially just promoting a brand or a business. In the case of colleges, many are now run like businesses so they often promote specific courses or just the college in general to the public.


They promote these courses via the typical mediums we’re all familiar with online and offline like any other entity seeking to make a profit. However, the problem with colleges is that some are flaunting dangerously with copyright laws in their advertising.


This is most commonly occurring online, particularly via their own websites and especially on social media.


What they’re doing specifically is using GIF files to promote themselves and their courses.To the uniformed, GIFs are simply small files that render art or limited animation. They are very small in size and are often used on social media, blogs, or message boards to express emotion, draw reactions, for humorous purposes, or make commentary on an issue. Many of them use images from otherwise copyrighted material including TV shows and movies.

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To the average person out there, this doesn’t seem like a problem and many people probably look at this as creativity being utilised for promotional purposes. In fact, many people are probably wondering how this could even remotely become a copyright infringement problem.


The reason it can become dangerous ground for copyright infringement is because the law on using GIFs in advertising is a murky one.


For example, GIFs from movie scenes and television shows often sit in between the lines of fair use and copyright infringement. Furthermore, if specific GIFs with a celebrity are used then it can become even more dangerous.


The problem here is specifically stated by Michelle Panzironi in Forbes:


‘The legal trouble lies in using someone else’s original content to create and share a GIF. This usage undermines the copyright owner’s ability to control derivatives of their work, where or how their work is shared, and their right to receive proceeds.’

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There is yet to be a specific legal case involving uses GIFs as has been described above but the facts are that colleges are treading on dangerous ground when they use this strategy in their advertising.


There are obvious problems with this like the potential legal ramifications and facing lawsuits. However, there is an even deeper problem that can have even more far-reaching and damaging ramifications long-term.


The Deeper Problem This Can Evolve Into For Colleges


Facing a lawsuit is just one problem.


The deeper problems lies in what this practice means for specific colleges that engage in this kind of advertising and the message it promotes to students.


That message is one whereby they’re indirectly stating that it’s okay to use the GIFS and it encourages students to do the same. Obviously, if this turns into a serious legal issue in the future then students doing the same as colleges can be in trouble because distributing these GIFS could also violate copyright laws.


Furthermore, it wreaks of a little hypocrisy.


We all know that colleges love to hold themselves up as Holy Grails of morality and that extends to the law.


So for a college to be committing copyright infringement would be a blatant hypocrisy on its part. Then that comes with the negative perception from the public that affects their brand and reputation.


We know that colleges have strict standards when it comes to copyrights, intellectual property, and the big one – plagiarism.


The reality is that there are a few colleges out there that would be wise to pay more attention to the way they’re promoting their campuses and courses via their websites and social media.


If they don’t, they could find themselves on the wrong side of the law and suffer a big blow to their own reputations, which naturally affects interest from students in those specific colleges.




In today’s world of digital communication, it’s vital that colleges maintain a sense of cautiousness with their advertising.


They must make sure that don’t violate their own strict standards and make sure copyrights are not violated. That starts with paying attention to the way they use GIFs, because they’re treading dangerous ground and if they’re not careful, could face legal and social consequences in the future.


If you’d like to find out more about copyrights and intellectual property protection then get in touch with one of our expert lawyers today.