Our tips for developing a copyright policy or guidelines guide you in preparing the best copyright compliance document for your library or organization.
For more in-depth information, learn how to draft a copyright policy or guidelines.
When Do You Need to Write or Update Your Copyright Policy?
A variety of events may signal the ideal time to introduce or update a copyright compliance document. These may include:
- A recent lawsuit has you thinking about how you can help your organization avoid a similar lawsuit
- Your organization has signed a new license agreement for a large electronic database
- Employees are asking for clarification on fair use or fair dealing and how to apply these copyright law principles to their work situations
- Your compliance department has asked you to prepare a policy or guidelines on copyright law
- A change in copyright law means you need to change your procedures when using copyright materials
- New technology is changing how your company uses content and written “rules” need to be set out
Why You Need a Copyright Policy or Guidelines for Your Library or Organization
A copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices document written in plain English can help you in many ways. It can:
- Set out step-by-step procedures for dealing with your everyday copyright and licensing issues
- Outline best practices for legally using third-party content
- Establish a procedure for clearing permissions in copyright-protected works
- Explain licenses for electronic resources and what their terms and conditions mean
- Help determine who owns copyright-protected materials created in your enterprise
Generally speaking, a copyright compliance document is a summary of copyright management procedures for your library or organization. It can also be an educational tool and serve as reference material on copyright and licensing issues relevant to your library or organization.
Rushing to prepare a compliance document won't achieve the best result. Take your time and prepare one that's practical, targets your copyright and licensing issues, and results in best practices to lower your copyright risks.
More and more for- and nonprofit organizations are drafting and implementing copyright policies or guidelines. This isn’t a simple task because it involves various components that build upon one another.
At the outset, it’s vital to take the time to contemplate why you need a copyright compliance policy or guidelines. This allows you to then concentrate on what’s important to include in your written document.
How To Effectively Use Your Copyright Policy, Guidelines or Best Practices Document
Although users may initially read the copyright policy in its entirety, they're more likely to consult it on an as-needed basis. We recommend an index and/or search tool to boost its effectiveness.
A copyright compliance document should be evergreen (i.e., always current). Review and update it periodically to reflect changes in copyright law, technology, organizational policies, and how you use copyright-protected materials in your organization.
It's important to communicate the new or revised policy to existing staff members. Always remember to make sure you also familiarize new employees, interns and consultants with this compliance document.
Plain English for Clear Communication
For the most part, a copyright policy, guidelines or best practices document is a tool for management, staff and librarians in your organization, not for your lawyers. Some tips to get you started include:
- Keep it focused toward your audience and their uses of content
- Include practical examples to make it as useful as possible
- Include frequently asked questions (FAQs) with practical short answers
Many libraries and organizations write their copyright compliance documents in plain, straightforward language, not “legalese.” This makes the compliance document more accessible, useful and likely to consulted when a copyright or licensing issue arises. They may have a lawyer vet their document or write it with a lawyer as a team approach.
If a lawyer prepares your copyright compliance document, make sure its users can understand it.
Getting Started on Developing a Copyright Policy
Copyright policies exist in a variety of forms, styles and lengths. 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 copyright and licensing issues to include in your policy. What are they? Only you can answer that question. What issues arise in your library or organization? Common issues include:
- Posting content online
- Using articles from licensed databases
- Reproducing articles for internal or external seminars
To start, take a team approach by involving those in your organization who deal with copyright issues, whether permissions, protection, negotiating and interpreting digital licenses, or other matters. Also be mindful of representing the diversity within the organization’s copyright stakeholders (e.g., racial, gender, disability and career experience). Bringing a variety of perspectives to the policy development process will lead to a more inclusive outcome.
Obtain copyright policy stakeholders' input on what should go into your copyright compliance policy, guidelines or best practices. Also give them the opportunity to provide feedback on drafts.
Then, pick a section of your compliance document and start writing (and rewriting). Be patient — copyright compliance documents aren't created overnight. Writing one may take hours of dedicated work.
What's the Purpose of Your Copyright Policy or Gudelines?
What’s the purpose of your copyright compliance document? Taking the time to answer this question is your crucial first step to drafting the best copyright policy or guidelines for your organization, so don’t rush through this process. Research all you can, consult with others and focus your purpose so you can write it out in one or two sentences.
A written purpose statement can guide you through the development process. Revisit the purpose often throughout the various stages of creating your document to ensure you’ve remained true to it.
Determining the purpose of your policy or guidelines isn’t something that can be done in isolation. You’ll need to consult with others in your library or organization and get answers to questions such as:
- Why do they want a copyright document?
- How would they use that document?
- What information would be most useful to them in that document?
Sample Wording to State Your Purpose
The following are examples of wording I’ve used when preparing policies or guidelines for copyright compliance.
The purpose of this Policy is to provide a summary of U.S. Copyright Law particularly as it relates to electronic courses. This Policy is necessary because copyright laws are not always straightforward and because the application of copyright laws can be frustrating.
The purpose of this Policy is to provide the Board and employees of the XYZ Library with a summary of Canadian copyright law as it relates to internal and patron copying of non-digital (e.g., print) and digital materials.
The purpose of these Copyright Guidelines is to provide general information on how global copyright law works and to provide answers (through FAQs) to simpler scenarios so that employees have a consistent approach to deal with copyright issues.
The purpose of these Copyright guidelines is to ensure that all employees of Company Y have a minimum knowledge of copyright law and that they can follow the procedures in these guidelines when using third-party content. Third-party content is copyright materials not owned by Company Y.
Updating Your Copyright Policy or Guidelines
If you already have a written copyright document, keep in mind that it should always be current. Therefore you need to revisit it from time to time.
When it’s time to amend your copyright document, start by re-examining its initial purpose and comparing it to the purpose of the revised version. Has the underlying purpose remained the same, or do you need to adjust it? If your purpose has changed, can you support it by amending the original document or is it best to start from scratch?
Remember, drafting the best copyright policy or guidelines (whether the initial version or fifth revision) begins with understanding why you need it and establishing a clear statement of its purpose.
We offer an online course, Developing a Copyright Policy or Guidelines, in which students who complete the short assignments have a draft
copyright policy or guidelines at the end of the course.