Copyright infringement swings both ways. On the one hand, you need to watch out for content infringement of your website content (people stealing your words, images, etc.). On the other, you need to ensure that your own content doesn’t run afoul of copyright law.
What Do I Need to Know About Copyright Infringement?
Knowing which situations could qualify for copyright infringement gives you a heads-up on what areas you need to exercise the utmost diligence in. As the National Law Review points out, it’s not only written material that falls under copyright law. Copyright infringement applies to musical compositions and arrangements (including your catchy jingle), artwork, business plans, videos, images, infographics, and software code.
While content your brand created after January 1, 1978, does not require a copyright symbol or registration with the United States Copyright Office, it’s best to include that symbol in your published content, including your website. That way, people who might think about copying your content cannot claim that they were unaware that your work was copyrighted.
Nevertheless, it’s wise to register your website content as a collective work so that your company can file a copyright infringement lawsuit should anyone use your content as their own. The US Copyright Office has provided guidelines that can help you and your legal team sift through the requirements for copyright protection.
For that reason, your content operations and governance teams need to guard against copyright infringement on your company’s part, since you could be liable for a hefty sum in damages should someone on your team infringe on another creator’s copyright.
Protect Your Company from Lawsuits with Strict Guidelines
Let’s look at how to protect your company against running afoul of copyright law. Most of the time, your in-house writers, trusted freelancers, and content marketing agencies have a fail-safe system to guard against overt plagiarism.
Whether it’s using anti-plagiarism software such as Writer.com’s free plagiarism checker or Copyscape’s paid copyright violation detector, your professional crew usually has a handle on any inadvertent violations in your written material.
Where problems usually arise is in user-generated content copyright infringement. It could be an employee who wants to promote your new product but can’t find the words herself. She then copies and pastes some of the text from a competitor’s site but uses it to provide a glowing review of your product, violating your competitor’s rights under copyright law.
Or, it might be a subject matter expert who uses large blocks of text from an academic paper she wrote for a journal with which she had a written contract designating the paper as a work-for-hire. That, too, is a copyright infringement.
Ensure that Outsourced Content Passes Muster with Your Legal Counsel
To detect these costly slipups, ensure that every piece of content you publish passes muster with your company’s legal and compliance teams as well as an editor. It always pays to check and double-check when it comes to staying within the proper legal boundaries.
Keep Updated Records of Permission Expiry
If you secure permission to use a copyrighted digital asset in your content, include that date in your content metadata. That way, your teams can see at a glance if they can still use the asset or whether they need to request permission to pay for an extension.
In general, if a piece of content bears a publication date after 1977, the copyright protects it for the life of the creator plus 70 years. Works for hire enjoy copyright protection between 95-120 years, depending on their publication date.
After these periods, content goes into the public domain – available to everyone to use without permission. If a piece of content you want to use has a publication date before 1923, it is usually in the public domain. It never hurts to check, though.
Always Cite Sources
If you cite sources other than your own content (and you should – it builds trust in your brand and enhances your search results so long as you cite leading industry sources), cite them using anchor text or references at the end of your content.
Doing so also helps your source copy build links, benefiting both parties. However, if you use large blocks of text, always request permission from the source.
Include Plagiarism Checks and Legal Approval in Your Content Workflow
Document the process your creative teams need to follow when submitting content for approval. Include these checks in your content workflow, and you’ll have a better chance of detecting any inadvertent copyright violations.
Protect Your Own Content from Copyright Infringement by Others
The other side of the copyright coin is protecting your content from others who would use it to further their interests. This situation can include people who simply want to share your company’s gated content or intellectual property with their friends or social media contacts, as well as those who would duplicate your content for profit.
This phenomenon is especially devastating in the music and entertainment industries. Whether it’s pirated videos sold by unscrupulous dealers or sheet music posted on third-party and social media platforms, laxity in copyright enforcement can prove to be a significant drain on the copyright owners’ sole rights to earn money from the fruits of their labor.
Sites like Scribd and Mediafire, for instance, don’t screen users from publishing copyrighted works on their platforms. The Russian social media platform VK, too, is notorious for not punishing users who post works that normally would require payment to the copyright owner or submission of an email address or other data in exchange for an ebook or white paper.
Conduct Regular Searches for Your Copyrighted Material
It pays to be vigilant. Using automated search software, such as Copyleaks, or running manual searches for your works, can help.
To their credit, many third-party sites and social media platforms – even some foreign sites — have a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown form you can fill out if you find that someone has usurped your right to your content. Otherwise, you can create your own copyright infringement form to report the violation to the person who wrongly published it.
Take Action When You Find a Violation
In the US, you can file claims for copyright infringement within three years after you discover the violation, as the National Law Review advises. If the violator doesn’t respond to your DMCA claim, you might have no other option but to file a lawsuit, particularly if the content is valuable to your business.
It’s always prudent to involve your company’s legal team early in the process. Copyright law is complex and usually requires legal intervention if the situation escalates to that level.
Fortunately, receiving a certified letter signed by one of your staff attorneys can often scare an infringer to cease and desist. However, if the violator resists, you need to demonstrate that you won’t hesitate to act.
If the violation occurs outside the US, check to see if the offending party’s country has signed a treaty with the US to mutually enforce each other’s copyright laws. Again, legal advice is critical in obtaining a positive outcome.
Collaboration with your legal team goes more smoothly when your content teams can reach out to your “legal eagles” on the same content platform on which they work.
Not only does DivvyHQ’s content marketing platform have an in-platform content collaboration capability, but it also has a leading-edge metadata solution, alerting your teams when an asset’s usage permission has expired – and so much more.