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Copyright Do's and Don'ts
2006, Q3 (April 09, 2012)
By Meredith Kinder, Managing Editor, Carolina Communiqué

Meredith Kinder
Meredith Kinder


Editor’s Note: Here is a brief summary of the “Copyright Do’s and Don’ts” presentation at the STC’s 53rd annual conference in Las Vegas, NV, in May, 2006. At that session, Dru Zuretti and Christopher Kenneally from the Copyright Clearance Center discussed some general information about copyrights and suggested several rules of thumb to consider when using copyrights.

According to the United States Copyright Office, "Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, US Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission."

Copyright is extremely important in our economy today. Intellectual property fuels our economy to a great extent: 1/3 of the market of US stock, and 42% of gross domestic product.

A copyright protects authorship, either now known or later developed. There are fundamental concepts of copyright: it needs to be in a tangible form and it needs to be eligible.


Register your work with the copyright office. It gives your work more protection.
  • If you write a poem on a napkin at a restaurant, you are the owner of the copyright for that poem. The date of instantiation is the date of copyright. The more developed it is, the better you can protect your copyright.
  • You can give your copyright to others. There are different types of rights:
    • Nonexclusive rights: For example, STC can have rights to your work but so can you.
    • License rights: You can license your rights to someone for a particular purpose but then retain those rights after that.
  • You can give away all rights, which can include updates, derivatives, copying, future work, updated corrections, etc.
  • Make sure you keep handy a copy of the contract in case you do want to use what rights you have in the future. Make sure that you have a lawyer look over your contract.
  • You can put a doc you created into your portfolio even if you are not the copyright owner.


  • You can't copyright an idea. Keep your ideas to yourself.
  • Don't post your work on personal Web sites.
  • You don't need to ask for permission to use material if the doc was written before 1923 (life + 70 years) because it's in the public domain.
  • Don't assume that your work always belongs to you: if you create a work as an employee, it's likely that the copyright belongs to your employer.
  • Don't assume that the publication date is the same as the copyright date: the date of copyright is the date of instantiation of the document — when the work was completed, rather than when it was published.

Parting Words

Lastly, when you are using other people's works, analyze four different factors:
  • amount you are using
  • substantiality of what you are using
  • nature of copyrighted work
  • effect of reuse on potential market value

Fair use is not a right, it's a defense. Plagiarism is lifting big parts from others' documents and not giving them credit. However, if your work is substantially someone else's — even if you give them credit, it's not okay.

Educate yourself further on copyright information and laws to protect your own work as well as avoiding accidentally misusing others. If you'd like to learn more, there are many useful Web sites you can reference. A few include:

Meredith can be reached at Meredith dot Kinder at sas dot com. End of article.

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