This post discusses the copyright issues businesses and organizations must deal with when publishing newsletters and magazines. The copyright education provided here will help your business avoid legal hassles and learn how to protect its own publications. One of the copyright lessons you will learn is that a Creative Commons license does not necessarily mean that content is free of all copyright restrictions.
Copyright in Newsletter and Magazine Content
More and more organizations and associations are publishing newsletters and magazines, especially in an electronic format. Certainly, there are some differences between publishing in print and publishing electronically — including the costs to produce and distribute a printed publication. When it comes to copyright, however, many of the same rules apply no matter what the format. Editors, publishers and businesses need to understand how copyright law applies to the publication of print and electronic publications.
Copyright Status of Content
As an editor or publisher, the first thing to consider is the copyright status of an image, article or other content you want to publish in your newsletter or magazine. Are you publishing original content or is it existing or previously published content? And what is its source? You could face various scenarios, including:
- Content written by an employee in your organization
- A photo taken by an employee while on vacation
- An image or article you find on the Internet, perhaps through a Google search, that you want to reproduce in your publication
- Public domain content
- Images from stock agencies
- Creative Commons-licensed content
Below we discuss the copyright law issues related to each of these scenarios.
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Content Written by an Employee
Perhaps an employee in your organization prepared a research paper that would be a terrific article for your newsletter. Do you need permission to publish it in your newsletter? The general rule is that works created during the course of employment as part of an employee’s duties belong to the employer.
Your job is to do your homework and investigate whether the research paper was created as part of the employee’s duties. If so, the organization most likely owns the copyright in the article and you do not need any permission to include it in your publication.
If the same research paper was, however, written by a consultant, independent contractor or freelancer, it may belong to either that individual or your organization. This is generally a matter of agreement between the organization and the freelancer or independent contractor. As editor, you must investigate copyright ownership by reviewing the agreement between the consultant and your organization.
Photograph Taken by an Employee
Applying the same general copyright rule of works created in the course of employment as set out above, a photograph taken by an employee while on vacation will most likely belong to the employee. The employer will need to obtain copyright permission to include the photo in their publication.
If the content you want to include in your newsletter or magazine is from the Internet, always assume that copyright law protects it and you need to obtain permission to use it. Even without a copyright notice, most works are protected from the moment they are put in some sort of fixed form.
If you find an image or other content through a search engine such as Google, keep in mind that the search finds content but not necessarily content that is in the public domain or not protected by copyright law. Once you locate that ideal image or other content, investigate its copyright status and take the appropriate steps prior to publishing it, as discussed here.
Public Domain Content
Public domain content is content that was never protected by copyright (such as an idea or history or news) or content in which the copyright duration has expired. In the U.S., a work enters the public domain 70 years after the author’s death. In Canada, a work enters the public domain 50 years after an author’s death. In the U.S., public domain content also includes works prepared by federal government employees.
Stock Agency Images
Stock photography is subject to a license — read the license to determine the legal parameters of use. Licenses differ among stock photo agencies and an agency may have a variety of licenses you can pay for. For example, a basic license may allow you publish an image on your webpage or in your newsletter, but may not allow you to use the image on a print book.
Creative Commons-Licensed Content
If the content you want to reproduce in your publication is governed by a Creative Commons (CC) license, it is still subject to certain terms and conditions. Read the particular CC license to learn what it permits. Some CC licenses allow generous noncommercial uses of online content, so you need to analyze your particular use of the content to see if it is a noncommercial use.
An Alternative to Obtaining Permission
If you cannot obtain permission (e.g., you cannot locate the copyright holder, time is of the essence, or the permission fee is too expensive for your budget), keep in mind that you may be able to write your own article on a particular topic.
In copyright, it is the words used to express an idea that are protected, not the idea itself.
Therefore, you can write your own summary or article about ideas, news, facts and history found in copyright-protected works. The key here is to use your own words.
Warranties From Copyright Owners
Whenever you obtain permission to use someone else’s content, ask for a warranty that that person owns the content and has the legal authority to provide you with permission to use it. For example, perhaps the employee took the photo while on vacation but then sold it to a travel magazine. The employee may have assigned the copyright, or agreed not to license it to another publication for a certain period of time, such as 12 months after the publication of the image in the travel magazine.
Organizing Copyright Permissions
When obtaining permission to include content in your newsletter or magazine, get that permission in writing to create proof or a trail of your permissions. Develop a file system or permissions database to document permissions. A search mechanism for your database will also assist in not duplicating your copyright permissions efforts. Always check your database before commencing the permissions process.
A permissions database also allows you to easily and quickly search permissions when using the same content in another manner or in an additional publication. Also, if another publication, website or content aggregator asks to reproduce your newsletter, you can check your permissions system to determine what content you may relicense to others.
Remember, creating a trail of your permission-seeking efforts (e-mails, faxes, telephone calls, etc.) is not the same as obtaining permission. If you do not obtain permission from a copyright owner, you may not reproduce that owner’s work unless the use falls within an exception in your copyright act. Some countries, such as Canada and the U.K., have mechanisms to allow the use of orphan works (works for which the copyright owner cannot be located).
Copyright in Your Publication
The individual articles, photographs and other works in your publication likely have copyright protection, and so may your publication as a whole. Although copyright is automatic in 174 countries and the use of the copyright symbol, ©, is not mandatory, it is universally understood; using it will educate others that copyright exists in your newsletter or magazine.
Taking the extra step of including a link to your email address will remind readers that permission is needed to reproduce your publication. An example of a way to set out the copyright symbol and notice is:
© Logistics Inc. 2017. For permission to reproduce any article in this newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer that your publication be used freely in certain circumstances, include a statement to that effect. You can also consider choosing a CC license that allows narrow or broad free uses of your publication. Keep in mind that if you do not own the copyright in individual articles, you may need to refer anyone seeking permission to use them directly to the copyright owners.
Under the Berne Convention, the leading copyright treaty, once you have copyright protection in your own country you automatically have copyright protection in any of the 174 Berne member states. This covers most countries where your publication is read.
Copyright law is not always straightforward. An education in basic copyright law principles will help you to avoid any infringement hassles and also to protect your organization’s own publications. Key points for any editor, publisher or business to consider when publishing a newsletter or magazine include:
- The origin of your content and the related copyright issues
- Obtaining warranties from copyright owners
- Organizing copyright permissions
- Copyright protection in your newsletters and magazines
- Using the © symbol
- Global copyright protection
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