It seems that organizations and associations are producing more newsletters and magazines than ever, at least in an electronic format. Certainly, there are some differences between publishing in print and publishing electronically—including the costs to print on paper and to distribute a printed publication. When it comes to copyright, however, many of the same rules apply no matter what the format, and publishers and editors need to understand how these rules apply to them. As ignorance of the law is no excuse, the issues discussed should be on the radar screen of every publisher and editor of a newsletter or magazine.
Origin of Content
The first thing to consider is the copyright status of a publication’s content. For example, will it contain an article written by a fellow employee? If so, and if the employee wrote it in the course of his or her employment, the organization most likely owns the copyright in the article and does need any further permission to include it in the newsletter or magazine. However, if the article was written by a consultant, the article may belong to your organization, or it may belong to the consultant. You will need to investigate this by reviewing the language of the agreement between the consultant and the organization.
Similarly, if the publication will contain a photograph taken by an employee while he or she was on vacation, the photograph most likely belongs to the employee, and you will need to obtain permission to include it in your publication. If it is an article or photograph by a freelancer, make sure you get permission in writing. Whenever you obtain permission to use someone else’s content, ask for a warranty that the content is owned by that person and that he or she has the legal authority to provide you with permission to use that content.
If the content is from the Internet, assume that it is protected by copyright. Even without a copyright notice, most works are protected from the moment they are put in some sort of fixed form. If copyright is not mentioned in relation to an article or photograph, then the safest assumption is that it is protected by copyright, and you will need to obtain permission to use it.
If the content is governed by a Creative Commons (CC) license, it is still subject to certain terms and conditions. Read the particular CC license to learn what is permitted by that license. Some CC licenses allow generous noncommercial uses of online content, so you will need to analyze your particular use of the content to see if it is a noncommercial use. Some U.S. government works are in the public domain, but if content has been added to these works, or if these works were prepared by a non-government person on behalf of the government, portions of the content may be protected. Stock photography is subject to a license—read the license to determine the legal parameters of use.
Read Part II of this post.