Paid newspaper display ads, Disney and Internet images

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  • I work at a fair sized regional newspaper (12,000 circulation) and have been concerned about the use of Disney characters and images pulled from the Internet in paid display ads. (The Disney characters are usually used on Happy Birthday ads).

    Despite me voicing my concerns to the staff creating display ads and the ad reps, there is a continued use of copyrighted images.

    Who is liable for this type of image use? The company, the publisher, supervisors or the individual employees?

    How is the best way to educate employees on copyright concerns.
  • I think you are right to be concerned. It is possible that some of the uses would fall under Fair Use. I am not a lawyer, but would guess that, in cases where the use was not determined to be fair, there might be some liability for contributory infringement. I would suggest that your newspaper publisher consult an intellectual property attorney.

    In the meantime, there are some good guides on copyright available. You might look through the resources on our wiki, at, especially those listed under Instruction Aids or Recommended Resources. In particular, I think that the University of Texas's Crash Course in Copyright, while geared towards academics, might fit your needs. You can find it online at

    Finally, licensing is an option that may work well for your newspaper. Disney may be willing to license their images, but there are free and low cost alternatives. See our section on Licensing and Permissions for more information on this, and keep in mind that while Creative Commons licensing may be an option, many specify non-commercial, which may rule out this use, or attribution, which may be difficult within a small ad.

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