CCC recently assembled a panel of expert leaders in publishing and medical communications for a broad discussion on copyright as it pertains to the work of medical communications professionals. The panel was moderated by Catherine Zaller Rowland, Vice President and General Counsel, CCC.

In this article, we’ll answer three questions from the audience about the intersection of copyright and the reuse of published material in medical communications projects.

Why do I have to request permission to reuse content in a medical communications project?

Copyright protects original works of authorship of any kind, including journal articles, books, email, social media posts, content you post online, images (including illustrations and photographs), technical drawings, figures, and infographics.

When you reuse work in your medical communications project, remember that an important principle of copyright is that the rightsholder of that original work has the right to authorize or prohibit certain types of uses of their work. In copyright law, these are known as exclusive rights and they include the right to copy, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and make works based on the original work. When the copyright owner grants permission to use one of their works, they can include specific conditions like where the use would take place, the number of times the use can happen, etc.

For example, a rightsholder may grant permission to use a figure in a specific presentation. That permission applies only to that specific type of use — that presentation. If you also want to include the figure in a different presentation or setting, the original permission would not cover that use so you should secure permission specific to that reuse. And the rightsholder may choose not to grant permission to use the content in that manner.

If a journal article is published as Open Access, can I reuse it? 

For Open Access (OA) content, it’s important to understand that there are a number of different types of OA license under which the content is made available. For example, Creative Commons has developed 6 types of OA Creative Commons licenses that copyright owners may choose to use, with each license granting a different set of permissions for reuse under a specific set of conditions, e.g., the requirement to provide attribution, among other things. While some of these licenses authorize use for business purposes, several of them specify that reuse is allowed for only non-commercial purposes.

In addition to Creative Commons licenses, there are other OA license options, all of which have their own terms. When using OA content in medical communication projects, it is important to make sure you are using the content in a way that is consistent with the relevant OA license and your company’s own OA policies. 

What can a company do to be more copyright compliant? 

Navigating the complexities of copyright can be challenging. Here are a couple of ideas to help.  

  • Appoint a copyright expert within your organization to answer employee questions.  
  • Keep an updated copyright compliance policy and share it with employees and perhaps clients. If you don’t have a copyright compliance policy, CCC offers several template examples on our website,  
  • Educate employees and clients on the importance of copyright compliance. You want to make sure you are always getting content from a known entity or legal source.   

You can also create a checklist of questions to ask when reusing content in a medical communications project. Below is a list of information you should be seeking to gather with this checklist, and some sample questions to help you do so: 

  • Always confirm content is coming from a known entity or legal source. Sample questions: Where did the work come from? Was it legally obtained? Did you find it online?
  • The intended type of use impacts the permissions needed and the price for reuse. Sample question: What do you want to do with the content?
  • The duration and audience size should be known before seeking permissions. Sample questions: How long with the content be used? Once? For a year? 


Author: Stephanie Davis

Stephanie Davis is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at CCC with more than 15 years of experience launching products that drive revenue growth for technology companies. She is passionate about creating differentiated positioning and developing and executing go-to-market strategies. Her primary focus at CCC include Ringggold Solutions and Marketplace.
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