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Copyright policies in corporations and law firms

March 23, 2015

Home Blog Copyright policies in corporations and law firms


While employee conduct in relation to social media is an important issue for law firms and corporations, the leaders within those organizations all too often give little thought to copyright infringement, like employees who incorporate YouTube video clips or images from a Google search into a PowerPoint presentation.  Yes, it is commonly done every day, but at the same time, it’s copyright infringement (and illegal) unless permission has been obtained from the rights owner.

In our last post on copyright infringement, we said that the prevailing attitude around copyright is that it’s a non-issue. Many employees don’t even realize they are breaking the law, and many employers ignore it, neglect to monitor or correct it, and fail to implement or communicate copyright policies and procedures.

The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) has created an infographic that illustrates the copyright infringement problem in business, doing a great job of describing the issues that lead to infringement.  To summarize:

  • People share materials at least 7.5 times a week.
  • 40% of materials shared within an organization come from outside sources. (I actually think that number could be higher with so much available on the web.)
  • 47% share videos at work regularly with 42% admitting they don’t get permission before sharing.

At the same time, 56% of businesses don’t have copyright policies and an even larger percentage of the employees (67%) don’t know where to go to obtain the rights/permission to use copyrighted materials no matter what the medium.

How do businesses that want to avoid the risk of copyright infringement start to tackle this problem? They can begin by drafting a copyright policy and educating everyone within the organization of their responsibilities when it comes to copyright. If you are wondering where to begin, check out the following information that leads you through creating, implementing and communicating a copyright policy, with examples and resources for doing so.

Copyright Policy—Content

Your copyright policy should succinctly answer three questions for your employees:

  • What is covered by copyright protection?
  • What are the consequences and penalties for infringement? (to employees personally and the risk of liability to the organization)
  • How do I obtain permission for content I want to share or use?

To help you address these questions, the following links offer a basic overview of copyright laws, violations and remedies:

Copyright Policy—Examples and Resources

Following is a curated list of copyright policy resources for different types of organizations and users:

Law Firms

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) offers recommended guidelines in this Model Law Firm Copyright Policy.

Note: This model policy was last updated in 2007.  For guidelines on policy for digital and other non-print materials see the Guidelines on the Use of Copyrighted Works by Law Libraries or the CCC guide for business listed below.

Individual Business Professionals

For individuals (like consultants or employees in sales, marketing, R&D, training and other areas who tend to share and reference information and may be at greater risk for infringement), the Copyright Clearance Center offers a Guide to Copyright Compliance for Business Professionals.

Hospitals and Universities

The worlds of medicine, healthcare and academia face unique copyright compliance challenges.

Copyright Education

Once the policy is in place, it is important to provide employee training to ensure they understand their responsibilities when it comes to copyright compliance.  A Fortune 500 client that uses LAC Group to support their compliance initiatives has library staff who train new employees on the copyright policy during the on-boarding process, answer questions regarding copyright, and follow-up with all employees if they act in ways that show they don’t understand the policy.  They also attend department meetings to share new information regarding changes in policy.

Whatever is offered in terms of training, it should be a well-planned and consistent effort to reach current employees and all new hires.

Outside/Outsourced Support

A well-documented copyright policy and employee/stakeholder training go a long way toward creating awareness of copyright protection. While it will help organizations prevent illegal copying and distribution of content, it generally won’t be enough to cover all aspects of ongoing copyright compliance.

Copyright Clearance Center and LAC Group’s own copyright offering for rights clearances are additional resources that can complete the loop and ensure ongoing protection from copyright infringement risks.

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)

The CCC is a go-to resource for learning more about copyright protection and compliance and creating copyright policies, but more importantly it is a clearinghouse for obtaining permission from copyright holders within the United States. In that clearinghouse role, the CCC offers a number of options for license subscriptions that allow organizations to use copyrighted material internally, where the publishers or rights holders of that material have signed up to be represented by the CCC for payment of the use of their copyrighted works. For multi-national companies, the CCC has agreements with like agencies in other countries that allow use of materials created in those countries. It also allows employees in those countries to use materials copyrighted in the US.

Library as a Service – Rights Clearances Support

While a CCC license is a great way to make sure the organization is covered for most materials, they do not allow use of materials created by rights holders who choose not to be represented. They also don’t cover most materials of a non-print nature. This is where LAC Group shines. Our copyright specialists obtain permission for those materials not covered by CCC licenses including videos, images, company logos, as well as music and audio.  We also find and obtain permission to use obscure material, including works published in other countries.

If needed, we conduct research to determine who the rights holders are, make permission requests or negotiate and purchase licenses on behalf of our clients, track those requests to make sure they meet client deadlines, and deliver results to close the request. To their credit, our specialists have been involved in a variety of copyright searches that could not have been resolved easily, if at all, but for their perseverance and research skills!

We provide such copyright research services to many large companies and law firms, including the same Fortune 500 client I mentioned earlier. The chart below shows the five most common content types that we were asked to research for rights clearance for this client last year.

As you can see, the requests for permission to use images, video and documents have been the most common.

We all enjoy the privilege of copyright protection for our own creative work. Whether it’s a blockbuster movie or a video we shoot on our smartphone, a best-selling novel or a blog post, no matter how special or ordinary, the person or entity who created it owns all the rights to how it’s used. As for the rights to any blog post, article or other content on the LAC Group website, or if you have other copyright questions, I invite you to contact us to discuss your needs.

Additional Copyright Infringement Link and Resource

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