Any original work of expression written, recorded, or otherwise captured in some fashion is protected by copyright. That includes art, music, and literature, as well as research, news, blogs, and e-books.

Copyright is an essential tool in the spread of new ideas, and the workplace has become ground zero for violations of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder discussed above – otherwise known as copyright infringement. Ask employees up and down the corporate hierarchy, and they’ll tell you that sharing information electronically with co-workers is integral to their jobs. Their employers will emphatically agree.

But unauthorized swaps of information also carry enormous potential risk: Ordinary office exchanges, so natural to the digital world, can easily violate the copyright rights of others and result in costly lawsuits or settlements. So, any time employees share content, there’s not only risk—potentially substantial legal and financial exposure—but ethical aspects to consider as well.

So how does a company teach all its employees about copyright and protect itself against copyright infringement? An important first step is taking responsibility to educate employees about compliance and then putting protections in place, including a copyright policy.

The following five steps will help get you started in crafting a copyright policy that meets your company’s needs and decreases your risk of infringement. Please feel free to use these sample guidelines for your organization, but be sure to consult legal counsel, and understand that the following suggestions are not legal advice.

1) Tap your organization for input

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, 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. Whatever the reason, state it concisely.

3) Define copyright

Explanations of copyright law and what it covers don’t have to be complex. Be sure your policy includes concise definitions and examples of information that is and, equally important, is not copyright protected.

4) Demystify “fair use”

Fair use’s premise—to allow limited use of copyrighted material without permission—is often misunderstood. Be sure your policy includes details on the factors to be considered when deciding whether a particular use is a fair use and your organization’s policies for balancing fair use and copyright holders’ rights.

5) Address international copyright issues

Each country has its own copyright laws, and therefore there is no such thing as international copyright law. The differences in the national copyright laws present a challenge for global organizations with employees working in worldwide offices and sharing content across borders. Nevertheless, more than 160 countries have ratified a treaty—the Berne Convention, administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)—that aims to protect the rights of creators around the world by “harmonizing” the participating nations’ copyright laws to some degree.

If your organization employs workers in multiple countries, provide information to ensure they comply with the copyright laws of the country in which they are based.

Explore Copyright Clearance Center’s licensing solutions. 


Author: Lexie Winslow

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