Top 5 Signs You Need a Copyright Policy

From guest blogger Lesley Ellen Harris, copyright lawyer and instructor for SLA’s Certificate in Copyright Management program.

CopyrightCopyright is a complex field, and in your library or organization there may be some general indicators that point to the need for a written copyright policy or guidelines. Your organization would benefit from having such a written copyright document if it meets any of the descriptions below.


1. Your library or organization is a repository for materials that you loan or reproduce.

It’s important to be aware of how copyright law works with respect to works you loan or reproduce. Knowing the rights that exist in a work will allow you to plan for legal handling. Do you own the copyright in those materials, or do you just own the physical materials? Are there any restrictions on types of uses permitted on all of the materials? Are you permitted to digitize the materials AND provide access to the digital versions? Are some or all of the materials in the public domain and can they be used freely? Will the content be available online and accessible in other countries (which may raise other copyright concerns)?

2. You or others in your library or organization have felt or expressed concern about liability for infringement.

Do you wonder about your responsibilities for ensuring the legal use of copyright-protected materials? What is your personal and work exposure to liability for unauthorized use?

A copyright policy or guidelines can offer a framework within which individuals and organizations can legally operate. Copyright guidelines may outline employee responsibilities for identifying copyright-protected works and legally using those works. Your copyright guidelines may include a summary of any works for which your organization has a license agreement or other permissions and what rights and uses those permissions cover. A FAQ is also helpful in providing quick and easy answers to everyday copyright issues.

3. Copyright is misunderstood in your organization and not correctly followed.

Sensitizing others in your organization to copyright concerns is key to ensuring that your organization is operating within the bounds of copyright law. There are many opportunities to educate employees, researchers, interns and consultants about copyright, from workshops and classes to posted notices and warnings near computers and printers to publishing interoffice communications.

Your copyright policy or guidelines may be your first effort toward copyright education. Write it in plain language. Circulate it at in-person meetings and post it on your intranet. Encourage employees to use resources for which your library or organization already has permission; this can be an effective way to educate staff about permissions.

4. Procedures for obtaining permissions to use content are not standardized in your organization.

When you need copyright permission, how do you obtain it? Do you have a permissions letter everyone in your library or organization uses? Is there a designated person who clears permissions? Do you keep track of these permissions, perhaps in an electronic database? Do you carefully review the permitted uses prior to using a work, as copyright clearance for one purpose may not be permitted for another purpose?

5. You have licenses with aggregators, electronic journals and copyright collectives.

Licenses mean that you have permission to use content in specific ways. You have paid for this permission, so you want to spread the word as widely as possible that the content in your e-journals and databases is accessible to all—according to the terms and conditions of use in the licenses.

When you have copyright collectives or digital licenses with publishers in place, resources are already cleared for certain uses. This saves time by avoiding the need to go through the permissions process for individual uses. It also often saves money, because uses cleared through license agreements or copyright collectives are often less expensive than individual permissions for each use.

All licenses allow use under specific terms and conditions. As with individual uses, you must know what is permitted under those licenses and agreements. Those terms and conditions can be summarized in your copyright policy or guidelines so it’s clear what uses are permitted by whom and under what circumstances.


Want to better understand how you can be the copyright guru in your organization? Register today for Copyright Management Roles for Librarians and Info Pros (CCM100), an online course that begins Friday, January 16 (updated). CCM100 is just $295 for members, and it will help you understand copyright myths, basic copyright law principles, compliance and infringement, and much more. Questions about the program?  Contact Click University staff.


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