Businesses, organizations and associations must deal with various copyright issues when publishing newsletters and magazines. Below is a survey of the issues you may come across when publishing newsletters, magazines and other publications in your workplace.
You may also be interested in our article Copyright Issues in E-Books and Electronic Publishing.
Copyright Issues When Publishing Newsletters and Magazines: Content
More and more enterprises are publishing newsletters and magazines, especially in an electronic format. Certainly, there are some differences between publishing in print and electronically (e.g., the greater cost to produce and distribute a printed publication). When it comes to copyright, however, many of the same rules apply no matter what the format.
Copyright Status of Content
As an editor or publisher, the first thing to consider is the copyright status of any image, article or other content you want to publish in your newsletter or magazine. Are you publishing original content or is it existing or previously published content? What’s its source? You could face various scenarios for content you want to use, including:
- Content written by an employee in your organization
- An image or article you find on the internet, perhaps through a Google search
- Public domain content
- Images from stock agencies
- Creative Commons-licensed content
Below we discuss the copyright law issues related to each of these scenarios.
Content Written by an Employee
Perhaps an employee in your organization prepared a research paper that would be a terrific article for your newsletter. Do you need permission to publish it? The general rule is that works created during the course of employment as part of an employee’s duties belong to the employer.
Your job is to investigate whether the employee created the research paper as part of their employment duties. If so, the organization most likely owns the copyright in the article and you don’t need permission to include it in your publication.
If the same research paper was, however, written by a consultant, independent contractor or freelancer, it may belong to either that individual or your organization. This is generally a matter of agreement between the organization and the freelancer or independent contractor. As an editor, you must investigate copyright ownership by reviewing the agreement between the consultant and your organization.
If the content you want to include is from the internet, always assume it’s protected by copyright and you need permission to use it. Even without a copyright notice, most works are protected from the moment they’re put in some sort of fixed form.
If you find an image or other content through a search engine such as Google, keep in mind that the search finds all content relevant to your search criteria, but not necessarily content that’s in the public domain (i.e., not protected by copyright law). Once you locate that ideal image or other content, investigate its copyright status and take the appropriate steps prior to publishing it, as discussed in our article 6 Essential Tips for Legally Using Images.
Public Domain Content
Public domain content includes:
- Content never protected by copyright (e.g., ideas, history or news)
- Content in which the copyright duration has expired
In the U.S., a work enters the public domain 70 years after the author’s death. However, in Canada, a work enters the public domain 50 years after the author’s death. Public domain content in the U.S. also includes works prepared by federal government employees. For further information, see the article What Is the Public Domain?
Stock Agency Images
Stock photography is subject to a license. You must read the license to determine the legal parameters of use. Licenses differ among stock photo agencies and an agency may have a variety of licenses you can obtain. For example, a basic license may allow you publish an image on your blog or in your newsletter, but may not allow you to use the image in a print book.
Creative Commons-Licensed Content
Be aware that content governed by a Creative Commons (CC) license is still subject to terms and conditions. Read the particular CC license to learn what it permits. If your use goes beyond the terms and conditions in the CC license, then obtain the additional permissions you need (or use alternative content).
Alternatives to Obtaining Permission
You may be unable to obtain permission for a variety of reasons, including:
- You can’t locate the copyright holder
- Time constraints
- The permission fee is too expensive for your budget
In copyright, it’s the words used to express an idea that are protected, not the idea itself. You may be able to write your own article on a particular topic instead of using one that already exists and for which you require permission.
Warranties From Copyright Owners
Whenever you obtain permission to use someone’s content, ask for a warranty that that person owns the content and has the legal authority to permit you to use it.
For example, perhaps the employee took the photo while on vacation but then sold it to a travel magazine. The employee may have assigned the copyright, or agreed not to license it to another publication for a certain period of time, such as 12 months after the publication of the image in the travel magazine.
Copyright in Your Publication
Individual articles, photographs and other works in your publication likely have copyright protection; so may your publication as a whole. Although use of the copyright symbol, ©, isn’t mandatory, the symbol does have the advantage of being universally understood. Using it educates others that copyright exists in your newsletter or magazine, particularly when you also include a permission notice.
Another helpful tip: including a link to your email address makes it easy for readers to seek permission to reproduce your publication.
An example of a copyright notice is:
© AZBYC Inc. 2018. For permission to reproduce any article in this newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer that your publication be used freely in certain circumstances, include a statement to that effect. Also consider choosing a CC license that allows narrow or broad free uses of your publication. Keep in mind that if you don’t own the copyright in individual articles or other content, you may need to refer anyone seeking permission to use them directly to their respective copyright owners.
Key points for any editor, publisher or business to consider about copyright issues when publishing newsletters and magazines include:
- The origin of your content and copyright ownership
- Obtaining warranties from authors and photographers
- Using the © symbol
See our online course Legally Using Images.
For an in-depth understanding of the principles of domestic and global copyright law,
as well as practical tools and strategies you can customize for your particular situation,
see our fully online Copyright Leadership Certificate program.