Developing a Copyright Policy

Developing a Copyright Policy or Guidelines

In this post you’ll learn why a copyright compliance policy, copyright guidelines and copyright best practices would benefit your library or organization and how to write one. A compliance document such as a copyright policy, guidelines or best practices can help your library or organization follow consistent procedures when using third party content and licensed materials. This copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices can also educate others in your library or organization about relevant copyright and licensing issues and provide practical information on how to deal with those issues.

Developing a Copyright Compliance Policy or Guidelines for Your Library or Organization

copyright compliance and managementA copyright compliance policy or guidelines or best practices document can serve a variety of functions, from determining who owns works, to explaining your licenses for the use of digital content, to establishing a procedure for clearing permissions in copyright-protected works. Generally speaking, a copyright policy or guidelines or best practices is a summary of copyright management procedures for your library or organization. Depending on the contents of the policy, guidelines or best practices, it can also be an educational tool and serve as reference material on copyright and licensing issues relevant to your library and organization. Another purpose of a copyright policy is to provide a single, consistent approach to copyright issues. Your copyright compliance document can set out step-by-step procedures for dealing with your everyday copyright and licensing issues.

How To Use Your Copyright Policy, Guidelines or Best Practices

Although it may initially be read cover-to-cover, a copyright policy, guidelines or best practices document is more likely to be consulted on an as-needed basis, so a strong index and/or search tool is recommended to ensure its effectiveness.

A copyright policy or guidelines or best practices should always be “live” and be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect changes in copyright law, technology, organizational policies, and the way in which you use copyright-protected materials in your organization. In fact, a change in copyright law, signing a new license agreement for a large electronic database, or a change in technology in your library or organization, may be an ideal time to introduce a copyright compliance document or an updated version of it.

Many libraries and organization write their copyright policy or guidelines or best practices in plain, straightforward language, not “legalese.” This makes the compliance document more accessible and more likely to be useful and consulted when a copyright or licensing issue arises. For the most part, a copyright policy, guidelines or best practices is a document for management, staff and librarians in your organization, not for your lawyers, so keep it focussed towards this audience and include practical examples to make the document as useful as possible. If a lawyer prepares your policy, guidelines or best practices, make sure those who will use it can understand it. Often a team approach is taken and input is gathered from various departments and drafts of the compliance document are circulated to various people. Rushing to prepare a compliance document will not make the best document; take your time and prepare one that is practical and targets your copyright and licensing issues. If a non-lawyer prepares the policy, guidelines or best practices, ask a lawyer to review it for accuracy.

Getting Started

Copyright policies exist in a variety of forms, styles and lengths, and writing one may seem like a daunting task. Where do you begin? First, read copyright policies from other organizations. Next, prepare an outline of the important issues. What are the important copyright and licensing issues to include in your policy? Only you can answer that question. What issues arise in your library or organization? Are they issues relating to the use of posting content online, or using articles in licensed databases, or perhaps relating to reproducing articles for internal or external seminars? These are some examples of the many copyright and licensing issues that may arise in your library or organization. Gather all those in your organization who deal with copyright issues, whether it’s permissions, protection, negotiating and interpreting digital licenses or other matters, and obtain their input on what should go into your copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices. Then, pick a section of your compliance document and start writing (and rewriting). Be patient—copyright policies, guidelines and best practices are not created overnight, and writing one may take many, many hours of hard (and perhaps frustrating) work.

Topics for Your Copyright Policy, Guidelines or Best Practices

Before you begin writing your copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices, think of the different headings and topics that may be relevant to your library or organization. Headings for a copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices may include the following:

  • Purpose of the copyright compliance document
  • A primer on domestic copyright law and international copyright law
  • When you need to obtain permissions
  • Permissions procedure
  • Protecting copyright-protected works created in your enterprise
  • Questions and answers about copyright
  • Updating your policy: Timing and procedure
  • Reference section
  • Internal contacts for copyright matters

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If you find this post helpful, you’ll also enjoy our 8 Tips for Managing Copyright Issues.

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