Copyright myths and legends

published in The Journal Record | October 17, 2013

By Jessica John Bowman

The Internet is home to many resources that may be useful to your business. It’s easy to reproduce these materials and, thanks to a number of widely circulated copyright myths, many business owners believe these materials may be freely used in presentations, on websites, and in meetings. In reality, such activities may constitute copyright infringement. The following outlines some common copyright myths and provides guidance to help separate the truth from the rumors.

I can reproduce pictures, articles or other works that aren’t accompanied by a copyright symbol, right? Wrong. It’s a myth that a work isn’t protected unless it bears the copyright symbol, and reproducing unmarked works could result in negative consequences for your business. A creative work is entitled to protection as soon as it becomes fixed in a tangible medium. The absence of the copyright symbol isn’t an indication that it’s safe to reproduce a particular work.

Am I safe if I attribute the work to the author? No. You can’t protect yourself from liability by attributing a work to its author. The owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce a work, and the act of copying infringes that right, even if it is attributed to the author.

What if I change a portion of the work? A widely circulated myth, the so-called 10-percent rule, suggests that individuals may avoid liability for infringement by changing some portion of a work (such as 10 percent of it). However, you can’t avoid infringing a work simply by making changes to it. In addition to having the exclusive right to reproduce his work, an author has the exclusive ability to make derivative works. Reproducing a modified work infringes this exclusive right.

But what if I don’t intend to profit from my use of the image or article? You cannot avoid liability by using a work only for noncommercial purposes. The unauthorized use of a copyrighted work is infringement, whether you profit from it or not.

These are just a few of the common misconceptions held by many business owners and managers. Don’t fall prey to these rumors. The surest and safest way to avoid an infringement lawsuit is to talk to your lawyer and obtain a license before reproducing a copyrighted work.

This article appeared in the October 17, 2013, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. © The Journal Record Publishing Co.