Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Copyright Policy is an Excellent Educational Tool

Developing a Copyright Compliance Policy

A copyright policy can serve a variety of functions, from determining who owns works created during employment, to explaining your licenses, to establishing a procedure for clearing permissions in copyright-protected works. Generally speaking, a copyright policy is a summary of copyright management procedures for your organization. Depending on the contents of the policy, it can also be an educational tool and serve as reference material on copyright issues relevant to your organization. Another purpose of a copyright policy is to provide a single, consistent approach to copyright issues.

Although it may initially be read cover to cover, a copyright policy is more likely to be consulted on an as-needed basis, so a strong index and/or search tool is recommended to ensure its effectiveness. A policy should always be “live” and be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect changes in copyright law, technology, organizational policies, and the way in which you use copyright-protected materials in your organization.

Write your policy using plain, straightforward language, not “legalese.” Keep in mind that this is a document for management, staff and librarians in your organization, not for your lawyers. If a lawyer prepares your policy, make sure those who will use it can understand it. If a non-lawyer prepares it, ask a lawyer to review it for accuracy.

Getting Started

Copyright policies exist in a variety of forms, styles and lengths, and writing one may seem like a daunting task. Where do you begin? First, read copyright policies from other organizations. Next, prepare an outline of the important issues. Gather all those in your organization who deal with copyright issues, whether it’s permissions, protection, digital licenses or other matters, and obtain their input. Then, pick a section and start writing. Be patient—copyright policies are not created overnight, and writing one may take many hours of hard (and perhaps frustrating) work.

Before you begin writing your policy, think of the different headings that may be relevant to your organization. Headings for a policy may include the following:
• Purpose of this policy
• A primer on U.S. copyright law and international copyright law
• Permissions procedure
• Protecting copyright-protected works created in your enterprise
• Questions and answers about copyright (see
• Updating your policy: Timing and procedure
• Reference section
• Internal contacts for copyright matters