As content marketers, we get excited about sharing content. From articles and videos to blog posts and photos, we live to spread content love.

Many of us, however, are unaware that the content we share is protected by copyright. In fact, every time someone creates a piece of content, it automatically gets a copyright. That's why we need to be careful about what we share and how we share it. 

According to the 2013 Information Consumption and Use Study conducted by research and advisory firm Outsell Inc., more than 40% of the information employees use and share comes from outside sources.* Over half of those surveyed in the same study either didn't know whether their organization had a copyright policy or didn't know what was in it.

Spreading copyright-protected material across the Internet and even within your own organization can increase your organization's risk of infringement.

So, how exactly are we sharing copyrighted materials? According to the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America study, marketers use a number of tactics to build awareness and generate leads:

  • Social media
  • Articles on your company's website
  • E-newsletters
  • Blogs
  • In-person events
  • Videos
  • Articles on other sites
  • Whitepapers
  • Online presentations
  • Webinars or webcasts
  • Infographics

Although those tactics are popular, and everybody employs them, you still need to consider the source of the content fueling each of them.

Is the content produced in-house? Are you working with freelance writers, designers, or photographers? If you hire freelancers, make sure they grant you the right to use their work as you see fit. That right may seem obvious, since you're paying them for their work; but, just in case, have them put a permission clause in their contracts.

And whenever you take materials from a third-party source—such as excerpting an article from a journal in your blog post or placing an image that you found online in your webinar slide deck—you should get copyright permission from the rightsholder, whether that's a publisher, author, photographer, or other holder of the copyright. 

Is the Content-Sharing I'm Doing 'Fair Use'?

To help you better understand the do's and don'ts of responsible content sharing, I spoke with Michele Ayers, Manager of Educational Services at Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a global thought leader on copyright and content licensing issues.

"One of the biggest misconceptions that marketers have about sharing protected content is the belief that all of the content sharing they do is considered fair use," Ayers pointed out.

A concept originating in, and still almost unique to, the US, fair use recognizes that certain uses of other people's copyright-protected works do not require the copyright holder's authorization. In those instances, the use is presumed slight enough that it does not interfere with the copyright holder's exclusive rights to reproduce and reuse the work.

Fair use refers primarily to the use of the copyright-protected work for commentary, parody, news reporting, research, and education.

"To use fair use as a defense against a copyright infringement claim," Ayers said, "you must weigh the four factors found in Section 107 of the US Copyright Act  and determine that, on balance, the four factors taken together indicate that your use is likely fair." These are those factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyright-protected work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for the copyright-protected work or on the value of the work

"All of those factors must be weighed together against the facts in each case, as what applies one time may not apply the next, depending on how, where, and why you use the content," Ayers said.

Fair use can be hard to determine, since the US Copyright Act has no specification for how much content you are allowed to share without infringing someone's copyright. For example, is it OK to share a page from an e-book or two minutes of a video? It's not clear.

CCC advises that you never give away the "heart" of a piece of content, as that could lead to violations.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringements

CCC recommends that content marketers take the following precautions to ensure they share content responsibly and avoid putting their organizations at risk.

Seek permission via licensing

Determining fair use for each piece of content you'd like to share can be time-consuming. That's why CCC strongly recommends licensing content.

"When in doubt, seek permission," Ayers said. "Whether you contact the publisher or individual content creator directly for copyright permission or work with a collective management organization like CCC, it is best to obtain a license to make sure you are using that content appropriately. A variety of licenses are available to help you quickly and easily gain permission to share content. Licenses can cover one-time use, such as posting to an external website, or a variety of internal uses through a repertory or blanket license model."

Ayers stresses that not all licenses cost money. For example, clicking a "share this" button next to a blog post is a way to agree to a no-money "license" that allows you to share the content while the copyright holder gets compensated in marketing ROI (in the form of additional exposure).

Raise awareness of copyright

Create a copyright policy that tells employees what they can and can't do with copyrighted content. Examples might include embedding scenes from a movie in a presentation or sending your sales team an article.

Employees should know when they must seek permission to use content and whom to ask when they have questions. Having an internal copyright officer or expert to answer these questions will help your organization stay compliant.

Here are some points to consider as you develop your copyright compliance policy:

  • Solicit input from copyright experts in your organization. Those experts may suggest issues that you should address in your policy. For example, what content is OK to share when your customers or business partners request information? How can marketing and sales departments use images and videos in sales materials?
  • Provide information on copyright law. Your colleagues may lack even a basic understanding of copyright law and how it affects them. Provide them with information on copyright law in your policy.
  • Address global copyright issues. Copyright laws can vary from one country to the next. If you have staff members in other countries, they need education on their national copyright laws.
  • Spell out compliance procedures. Explain how employees can determine whether they need copyright permission and how to obtain permissions from rightsholders.
  • Inform employees about the use of your organization's own copyrighted materials. How should employees handle works for hire with contractors and other nonemployees who produce content for your organization? When is it OK to distribute your organization's own materials?
  • Advise employees on the proper handling of infringement. Encourage employees to do the right thing and to follow specific procedures when they witness instances of copyright infringement within your organization.

"Copyright compliance in the workplace requires a combination of contracts, licensing, policy, and education," Ayers said. "Your copyright policies and education programs will be unique to your needs and must be reviewed regularly as your organization grows and evolves."

*Source: Copyright Clearance Center Information Consumption and Use Survey 2013.
Copyright 2013, Outsell, Inc.


Enter your email address to continue reading

How to Share Content Responsibly and Avoid Putting Your Organization at Risk

Don't's free!

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


image of Rachel Foster

Rachel Foster is a B2B copywriter who helps technology marketers improve their response rates, clearly communicate complex messages, and generate high-quality leads. Check out her B2B marketing blog.

LinkedIn: Rachel Foster

Twitter: @CopywriterTO