Top 10 Misconceptions About Copyright

Copyright is often misunderstood. With content sharing among professionals having more than tripled since 2016 according to recent research from Outsell, Inc.¹, routine content exchanges made by employees may in fact be placing your organization at a greater risk of infringement. Here are some common misconceptions around information sharing in the workplace and guidelines for educating employees on the responsible use of content.


Misconception 1

If I find content online that’s free, it is okay to reproduce it in my company’s blog. After all, it is just a blog.

Even though content is posted in public areas of a website or freely available, it doesn’t mean that permission is not required or that it is free to make and share copies. It is important to check specific terms of use on websites which often detail how a user may / may not reuse online content, and secure proper permissions where needed. Copyright law applies to blog content just as it does to any other original work and should not be reused without obtaining proper permission.

Misconception 2

My company has an online subscription to a journal, so it should be okay if I post articles from it on my company’s intranet site for employee education or send copies to my customers.

Stack of Question Marks on WoodNot necessarily. Distributing copyrighted content by posting it to an intranet site is no different than making photocopies for each employee. It requires permission. In some cases, distribution within the company may be permitted by the subscription, but in many others, separate permission from the copyright holder or its agent is required to make or share any additional copies.

It’s quite rare that subscription agreements allow distribution to persons outside the organization, so check the terms carefully before sending content outside your company. You may need to acquire additional permissions or purchase digital or print reprints.

Misconception 3

A lot of articles I read online have article tools that allow me to share the piece on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Since they seem to be encouraging people to share, it should be no problem to also use the content in a presentation.

Content available on public websites is still protected by copyright law. If publishers encourage you to share through a mechanism they provide (which retains their advertising, branding and the like), that does not mean you may re-use it internally or externally any way you would like. In this case, these article-sharing tools are part of a publisher’s business strategy, exposing the publisher’s content more broadly and bringing additional visitors to its sites. If you want to share a copy using a means other than these tools, you probably need to obtain permission.

Misconception 4

Our company’s newest product is featured in an influential trade journal. Our PR department cooperated with the reporter. It’s important that our top managers and marketing people see the article right away. Surely I can just copy it and send it to that small group.

Even if the article mentions your firm or your organization cooperated in producing it, you must obtain permission (or hold some other kind of license) from the copyright holder or its agent to copy and distribute the article. Distributing copies without a license may infringe on the rights of the copyright holder.

Misconception 5

As long as I cite my source, I can use third-party content in my articles, reports and presentations.

Including attribution does not eliminate the need to obtain the copyright holder’s
consent for use of content beyond the traditional limits associated with fair use. In
a business context, to lawfully use more than brief quotations from copyrighted
materials, you must secure permission (or hold some other kind of license) from the
respective copyright holders or their agents.

Misconception 6

We ordered paper reprints of an article, but I also want to e-mail it to people. Because we paid for reprints, I don’t see any reason why I can’t scan it and distribute it electronically.

Most copyright holders license content based on format and type of use. Before changing the format — for example, from paper to electronic — check your reprints agreement carefully. You may have to acquire additional permission to distribute that content electronically (or only some limited electronic use may have been included with the original permission).

Misconception 7

I contacted the publishers to request permission to use their content, but no one ever got back to me. I assume this means they don’t care and it’s okay to use the material.

When requesting copyright permission, it is important to note that a lack of response from the copyright holder does not, under U.S. law, negate the need to obtain permission. In addition, some works may contain materials — text, images and graphics — from multiple copyright holders and may require different authorizations depending upon what element or set of elements you wish to use.

Misconception 8

If a journal article is published as Open Access (OA), I am free to use and share with other employees as I wish.

For OA content, it’s important to understand the type of OA license under which the content is made available. There are six main types of OA Creative Commons licenses² each granting a different set of permissions for reuse under a specific set of conditions (for example, the requirement to provide attribution). While some of those licenses authorize use for business purposes, several of them specify that re-use is allowed only for non-commercial purposes.

  • Attribution CC BY
  • Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
  • Attribution-No Derivs CC BY-ND
  • Attribution-Non-Commerical CC BY-NC
  • Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA
  • Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivs CC BY-NC-ND

When using OA content, important to make sure you are responsibly using the content in a way that’s consistent with the relevant OA license and your company’s own OA policies.

Misconception 9

My company secured rights for employees in the U.S. to post a published article to our companywide intranet, so employees around the globe can also access the article and make copies for coworkers based outside the U.S.

Copyright laws, and the rights of copyright holders, vary from country to country, so just because your U.S. based employees have permissions to share with employees around the world does not automatically permit employees outside the U.S. to do the same. While your
subscription may permit global sharing, it is best to consult your licensing terms to be certain before assuming rights are the same for all employees regardless of where they are based.

Misconception 10

It’s no big deal if I use content without permission. I won’t get in trouble.

Copyright protection exists to encourage the development of new and creative works that spur innovation. Using content in unauthorized ways may infringe on the legal rights of the copyright holder and could put you and your organization at risk.

In the U.S., if the copyright holder registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the infringement, the copyright holder may sue for compensation (and an injunction). The copyright holder may be entitled to recover damages based on its lost profits; if those are hard to prove, the copyright holder can ask the court to award statutory damages which, depending on the user’s willfulness, can range from $200 to $150,000 for each act of infringement.  In some cases, it is even possible for there to be criminal liability.

As recent examples that copyright infringement can be hard to hide and can
sometimes be painful to users who think that they will not be found out, in 2018-19
alone, Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, publicly announced
settlements with three infringers of different sizes for $3,400,000, $825,000 and

¹ Source: Information Seeking, Consumption, and Use Report – US Copyright 2019 Outsell, Inc.
² Creative Commons About the Licenses (

With the Annual Copyright License, your team can exchange published information from millions of sources with colleagues down the hall and around the world.