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Understanding copyright law can help you avoid a costly lawsuit

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A copyright primer for newsletter editors

Understanding copyright law can help you avoid a costly lawsuit

by David Kandler

Editor’s Note: The author of this article, David Kandler, is the founder and president of CompanyNewsletters.com, an Internet firm that produces newsletters for companies throughout the United States. Learn more about how his firm can help your company produce printed and electronic newsletters.

To the delight of attorneys everywhere, newsletter editors are making themselves easy targets for lawsuits because they either ignore or don’t understand copyright laws.

As a newsletter industry insider, I frequently see and hear of many examples of copyright infringement. In fact, as a newsletter publisher myself, I’ve had to warn others who were illegally reprinting my copyrighted articles.

Most people who infringe upon a copyright do it unknowingly.”
Most people who infringe upon a copyright do it unknowingly. They don’t understand copyright law, and they don’t realize they’re doing anything illegal. Nonetheless, ignorance does not protect these people from being held legally liable for their actions and being sued for huge amounts of money.

To help prevent you from lining an attorney’s pockets with your hard-earned money, here is a copyright guide that you, as a newsletter editor, should be familiar with.

Reprinting articles

Let’s start with the most common way newsletter editors infringe upon a copyright — illegally reprinting articles from another source (publication, Web site, etc.). This happens all the time because of a popular misconception: Some editors mistakenly believe it’s OK to reprint an article from another source without permission, as long as they credit the original source of the article.

This belief is absolutely untrue. The only way you can legally reprint a copyrighted article is to get permission (preferably written) from the publication in which it first appeared. In some cases, you many even have to get permission from the article’s author, depending on who owns the rights to the story.

Using information from other sources

OK, we now know that you can’t reprint others’ articles word for word. But what if you want to use facts and ideas from another article as the basis for your story? For instance, if I just read an article in a marketing magazine about a new, innovative way to increase sales, can I legally write an article in my company’s employee newsletter explaining this new sales technique?

The good news is you can legally write about the ideas and facts contained in copyrighted materials. You do not need permission from the original source or author.

This brings up an important point to remember: Ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted. Only the expression of those ideas and facts can be copyrighted.

In other words, if I come up with a new, innovative marketing idea that I want to publish, I cannot copyright that idea. However, I can copyright the words that I put together to explain or express my idea. Others can legally write about my ideas, but they cannot use the same wording as me.

That doesn’t mean others can simply copy the original article and replace a few words here and there with synonyms. Copyright protection also extends to the tone and structure of my writing. So even though the words may not be identical, if a person wrote “essentially the same” article that I wrote, with similar words and the same tone and structure, that person would be guilty of copyright infringement.

If you read an interesting article that would be of interest to your newsletter’s readers, you can write a similar article. Just make sure you put the information in your own words. Summarize, don’t copy. And for ethical reasons, you should also attribute the information to the original author and publication.

Copyrighting your newsletter’s articles

Newsletter editors should not only be concerned with copyright infringement issues. They should also be interested in copyright protection of the information that their newsletters contain.

Copyrighting your publication’s original contents from unauthorized reproduction is surprisingly easy. In fact, you do not need to do anything. And it’s inexpensive — free, to be exact.

You’ll be happy to learn that as soon as your original work is created, it’s considered copyrighted to you (or your company). You are not required to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, and you are not even required to use the copyright symbol.

Registering your work with the Copyright Office (call 202/707-9100 for an application form) costs $30, and it may entitle you to additional damages if you successfully sue someone for copyright infringement. However, registration is not necessary for copyright protection. Your work will be copyright protected whether it’s registered or not.

You are not required to state your copyright (for example, “Copyright 1999 CompanyNewsletters.com”) within your work. However, you may wish to do that anyway to remind readers that unauthorized reproduction of your newsletter’s articles is prohibited.

Read more newsletter ideas, tips and “how to” articles from CompanyNewsletters.com.

To learn more about the author’s firm and how it can produce printed or online newsletters for your company, see http://CompanyNewsletters.com or call 952/892-6943.