Best PracticesFeb 20th, 2013

Four Concepts to Grasp in Copyright and Content Marketing


How to Avoid Legal Issues When Sharing Content in Your Communications and Social Media

If content marketing is part of your strategy, be it through newsletters, social media, advertorial and the like, the challenge is in creating meaningful, effective, and relevant content. The natural inclination is to simply pass along content found in a web search, but the legal implications of doing so can be costly, especially in a landscape where content providers are looking to maximize revenue from their content.

It’s that time of the year when dealers attach programs and promotions to big events including the Super Bowl or the Final Four. You’ll note that these ads never address the actual Super Bowl, but more likely refer to the “big game,” as the name is trademarked. Reference to such trademarks is tempting but can come at a high cost.

So, here are four terms with which to familiarize yourself to avoid the hazards of leveraging information that’s not really available to you.

1. What is plagiarism?

  • To steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one's own
  • To use another's production without crediting the source
  • To commit literary theft
  • To present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

According to U.S. Copyright Law, the expression of original ideas is considered “intellectual property,” and is therefore protected. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection, as long as they are recorded in some way.

However, almost all cases of plagiarism can be avoided by citing a source. Acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and then providing the audience with the information necessary to find that source, is generally considered enough to prevent plagiarism.

At one time, work was only protected if it included the copyright symbol ( © ). But according to laws enacted in 1989, works are now considered copyrighted regardless of the symbol’s presence.

As long as material can be proven to be substantially similar to the original, it may be considered to be a violation of the Copyright Act.

2. What is “fair use?”

The U.S. Government has established rough guidelines for determining the nature and amount of materials that may be utilized without consent. Fair use laws are complex and vague, and for the purposes of the material in a content marketing program, should never be considered as adequate protection under the law.

3. What’s in the “public domain?”

Public domain covers works that were never provided copyright protection, or works for which the copyright protection has run out. For the purposes of what we’re doing, most of our clients won’t be using information from the public domain. Works published after 1978 are placed in public domain after the lifetime of the author, plus 70 years.

4. What about images, video, sound files, etc?

Images and any other works are similarly subject to copyright. Images used in another medium need to be licensed directly from the copyright holder.

Companies that produce content (editorial, video, sound files, and images) are becoming ever more sophisticated in finding cases of improper use of their copyrighted material.

Companies like Getty Images, for example, have sophisticated means of searching for and finding their images, and investigating whether your company has proper license to use them. Do a Google search for “Getty Image demand letter” and you’ll learn that since the early 2000s, thousands of businesses across the country have received demand letters from Getty Image’s legal department containing settlement demands in the thousands of dollars. If your business uses an image that doesn’t belong to you, you can easily be the subject of a settlement that cancels out many of the benefits of your content marketing program.

The bottom line is that to truly protect yourself, you should have written permission to use any content you use in your website content, communications or social media.

It’s a best practice for avoiding costly legal action in the future.

Craig Fitzgerald serves as editorial director for IMN. He leads IMN's editorial strategy and oversees content for the company's customer email newsletter and social marketing service. In this role, he manages a team of writers who develop content for 1,900 automotive dealers, ensuring that they are brand compliant and optimized for delivery on mobile devices, through social media and in newsletters. Additionally, Craig writes consumer news features and other feature material for the Boston Globe, Concord Journal, and AAA Southern New England. Previously, Craig was the editor in chief for Hemmings Motor Sports, an automotive magazine publisher.

Authored by

Michael Bowen

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