Communications and Customer Care

Copyright law 101: are you staying out of trouble?

What is a copyright? Basically, it's the legal and exclusive right of the author of a creative work to control how that work is reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, publicly performed, and modified to create new works.

Copyright protection attaches to works the moment they are created and fixed in some tangible form, such as on a website, on a canvas, or on film. You have probably seen the ë© symbol used on works; this symbol identifies the owner of a work and notifies the public that copyright is being claimed. However, the law no longer requires a copyright notice, so do not assume that the absence of a copyright notice means that you may use the work without permission.Failure to obtain permission before using another's work constitutes copyright infringement in most cases, which could subject your organization to legal liability.

Examples of uses that may require permission include: emailing a journal article; posting content on a web or intranet site; photocopying a newspaper article; showing scenes from a movie or television show during employee training; inserting images into a presentation; and excerpting content from blogs and eBooks.

Educating employees about the basic elements of copyright law and its relevance to day-to-day business practices is critical to every organization.Below are a few hypotheticals, which have tripped up folks with the best of intentions, and my thoughts on each.

Our utility's CEO is quoted in a highly regarded energy trade journal.Our communications department cooperated with the reporter in the production of the story.It's important that our senior management and marketing team see the article right away.Of course, I can copy it and send it to this small group."

Even though your CEO is quoted in the article and you cooperated in producing it, you should obtain permission from the copyright holder before reproducing it and distributing it to others.Failure to do so may infringe on the right of the copyright holder.

"I am scheduled to give a presentation at APPA's Customer Connections Conference.I have permission to use an entire article, but I just want to use a chart from it in my presentation."

Check your license agreement carefully before excerpting, abstracting or otherwise modifying content for which you have reuse permission.Permissions vary widely and are often limited to the use of content "as is."Also, articles containing photos, charts and other graphic elements may have several different copyright holders.Depending on what element or collection of elements you are seeking to use, you may need to obtain permission from a copyright holder other than the one from whom you have received a license to use the intact article.

Another reason to do your copyright due diligence:APPA typically posts presentations on its website for conference attendees to review electronically. This means that APPA is holding itself out as having authority and permission to post whatever content appears on its site and in doing so, it is vulnerable to a claim of copyright infringement if it did not, in fact, have permission to post certain content.You wouldn't want to get your favorite trade association entangled in a copyright infringement issue.

"My organization has an online subscription to a journal, so it should be ok if I send our customers/members articles from it."

Probably not.Reuse permissions included in subscriptions vary widely, and where reuse is licensed most licenses limit distribution to other employees within your organization.Sometimes the subscription is limited to certain named employees.Check your subscription carefully before sending content outside your organization (or within your organization).You may need to acquire additional permissions to distribute further.

"A website I use provides a free 'send to a friend' feature. Since they seem to be giving content away and encouraging people to share it, what difference could it make if I just copy and paste the same content into an email, post it on an intranet site, print it out and make copies, or use it in my presentations?"

Even content posted on public areas of a website could be protected by copyright, just as is printed content.If publishers encourage you to forward their content to others through a mechanism they provide (which retains their advertising, branding, etc.), that does not mean you can use it however you like.In this case, the "send to a friend" feature is part of the publisher's business strategy.It expands exposure to the publisher's content and brings additional visitors to its sites, while enabling it to maintain control of its works.If you want to do something that is not expressly authorized, you should obtain permission or have a license.

I am sure that none of these hypotheticals have tripped you up in the past.However, in an effort to help educate your colleagues, please feel free to share this blog post in its entirety.No need to ask me for my permission (really, no need to ask me).

For more on copyright, be sure to attend APPA's 2015 Customer Connections Conference, which will feature a session entitled "CYA: Cover Your Assets (And Other Copyright Tips).""

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