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Content Marketing: Are you violating a copyright?

A nifty illustration of a globe spinning on a pen

April 23 is popularly known as World Book Day. But the official observance includes copyright, too. Turns out the UN figures we need to promote books and protect the rights of those who produce them.

Learn more about World Book & Copyright Day.

A cursory understanding of copyright rules and a clear reading of contracts is vital for all content marketers, agency owners and freelancers.

Shifting Liability

I don't blame most clients for writing contracts that shift all responsibility for not infringing on copyright rules to the people producing the content. They're the Goliaths and most other businesses are going to go along because they want the work. But it's pretty unreasonable for most people selling content because they don't understand the responsibility they're taking on.

Let's be honest, the majority of us think the rules we learned in school about not plagiarizing are all we need to know. And if you come out of the news business, like I do, you're in better shape, but there are some important considerations for commercial work like white papers that differs from newspapers.

(Think Fair Use applies? It might, though FWIW, our IP attorney thinks that's a stretch for content marketing. Check out the NOLO.com plain language description of Fair Use and judge for yourself.)

Thus, too many of us blithely sign contracts that put the onus of following the rules on our backs without really knowing the rules.

Why you should care about copyright

Not being clear on copyright is dangerous. Even if you don't have a ton of assets that make you a viable candidate for a lawsuit, if a pissed of client gets in trouble for because you violated someone's copyright, they can at the very least never work with you again and tell all their colleagues to steer clear of you, too. That could end your career.

Look, I'm not trying to scare the crap out of you. But I do want to get your attention. Use World Book & Copyright Day to get a clearer picture of copyright rules and responsibilities. review the contracts you have with clients (and clients -- review yours with vendors) so you know exactly what your responsibilities are.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

  1. Review your contracts with clients and vendors to fully understand your responsibilities for copyrighted material in commercial content.
  2. Talk to an IP attorney for an opinion on how copyright law applies to the work you create and adjust your policies and client expectations accordingly. In addition to a policy we share with all writers we work with, we also invested in a notice that we include on every piece of content we submit that explains we think the use is OK, but we're not lawyers, so the ultimate decision is up to you and your legal team. (that's not the actual language, but you get the idea.)
  3. Review Terms of Use for citations and linking policies from the sites and documents you plan to use in your content. We footnote that information when we decide to use a source so clients' legal teams can make their own judgments of appropriate use. We also let clients know when we feel the ToU keeps us from using the content. This adds time to every project, so you may need/want to adjust pricing accordingly
  4. Ask clients if they have purchased or produced research and data that is already cleared for commercial re-use and use that instead. But still check in with their attorney for an opinion on the client's agreement with the research firm.

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