When you’re working in a fast-paced, but small life sciences company, there’s a chance your organization hasn’t thought about a copyright policy (yet).  This can be a grave oversight, because without a copyright policy that outlines use cases for sharing of information with internal colleagues, healthcare providers, patients, or outside agencies, using copyrighted material in social media posts, or even how to curate articles in a copyright-compliant manner, the result is simple: chaos.

We’ve seen organizations where:

  • Some employees are downloading and sharing from academic libraries they still have access to
  • Some are using article-sharing sites such Sci Hub or Research Gate to download articles,
  • Others are purchasing through a third party who keeps a copy on their own Sharepoint site.

All of these actions can potentially open your organization to risk. To harness some of these issues, we recommend implementing in a copyright policy.

The following are six steps to establishing a copyright policy:

(1)  Tap your organization for input and try to build a small team.

Helpful suggestions for issues to address in your policy can come from a variety of departments. In addition to legal, compliance, and library/ information services (if you have that function), expand the policy team to include IT, marketing and corporate communications.

(2)  Establish your policy objective.

Be clear on why your organization is implementing a copyright policy. Maybe the goal is for your company to fulfill its obligations under copyright law. Perhaps it is to provide employees with a uniform approach to addressing copyright issues. State the reason concisely as it helps to establish context for the employees.

(3)  Define your expectations for how employees manage materials in a copyright-compliant manner.

Make the descriptions concise and relevant to your company and your industry.  Be sure your policy includes examples of information that is copyright-protected AND of information that is not copyright protected, and also examples of activities that trigger copyright issues and of some that don’t.  And then describe how all staff are expected to handle information in a copyright-compliant manner.  In the beginning, the policy might just say that employees are NOT to download information from journal-sharing sites or their academic institutions, and that such behavior will not be tolerated.

(4)  Clarify copyright’s reach across formats.

When it comes to copyright, pixels are as protected as paper. Be sure your policy clearly explains that copyright covers content across multiple formats. Employees are often surprised to find out that content is copyright-protected whether it’s in a newspaper, or in an electronic newsletter, or on a freely available website or blog.

(5)  Outline compliance procedures.

Identify who is responsible for answering compliance questions within your company. Explain the steps employees should take to determine if copyright permission is needed and to request or secure permissions.

(6)  Create guidelines for the use/sharing of your organization’s own copyrighted materials.

How should employees handle the issue of works for hire with contractors and other nonemployees who produce work for the organization? When is it okay to distribute your organization’s own materials as part of education trainings, either internally or externally?

There are other key issues, too, that will need to be addressed as your company grows, especially regarding growth into countries outside the US and how/whether you provide information to outside stakeholders, such as patients, external consultants, healthcare providers, and external agencies.

Perhaps most importantly, a copyright policy is useless if no one knows about it. All employees should be asked to read it, sign off on it, and perhaps complete a simple exercise as part of overall mandatory compliance training.


Interested in learning more? Check out:


As companies grow, their information needs grow, as well. CCC recognizes the difficulty in balancing current needs with future growth and is committed to providing smaller life science companies with a sustainable work flow solution to address information “underload” and copyright compliance challenges that grows with the company. Learn more about CCC’s RightFind Enterprise.


Author: Beth Johnson

Beth Johnson is Corporate Solutions Director at Copyright Clearance Center. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies, conducting research, and developing positioning and messaging for the corporate copyright licenses. Beth’s background is in medical publishing, managing product development from concept to maturity, across technologies and media in both emerging and established global markets. Before joining CCC she served in leadership roles at Greylock Press, SAGE Publications, The Goodwin Group International, and the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog