Nonprofits are constantly  being told to publish, communicate, share ideas and activities. Great advice, but how can anyone manage all the information and knowledge out there?

The internet is a fantastic source of material of all kinds, but it is important to know what is cool for you to use and what is not.   Laws protecting content of many kinds have ‘copyright protection’ but in this cut and paste era, it can be tough to know what is OK to reproduce and what will get you a nasty ‘cease and desist ‘letter.

Below is a reference guide for what is protected, what is not, and how you can use certain articles, images and other creative products for your organization.

As always, it is much easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble: keep this close by, its much cheaper than an apology or having to change your publications.

What Is A Copyright?

The point of copyright protection  is to protect  your “original expression” of work you have created.

Copyright is a form of legal protection automatically provided to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.

U.S. copyright law generally gives the author/creator or owner of an original creative work an exclusive right to:
Reproduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the public (e.g., create and sell copies of a film)
Create new works based upon the original work (e.g., make a movie based on a book)
Perform or display the work publicly (e.g., perform a play)
Violation of one of these rights is called copyright infringement. However, the use may be authorized by copyright limitations (such as fair use) described below.

A copyright legally protects creative works and ideas, i.e., intellectual property that is published, broadcast, or presented or displayed publicly. Examples would be this blog, an image, or a photo from a conference.

Other protected works include
literary works;
music recordings;
architectural drawings;
blog posts;
journalism;
movies & TV shows;
corporate videos,  original videos on YouTube, Vine and other places on the web;
podcasts;
choreographed dance;
artworks of any media.

For instance, if write a blog post on nonprofit donor retention,  It’s an original expression because you wrote it. The minute it goes live online, it becomes a “tangible expression” of your idea and comes under copyright protection.

What is not protected by copyright?
Unfixed works that have not been recorded in a tangible, fixed form (e.g., a song you made up to sing while driving)
Work in the public domain(see below)
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; numbers
Ideas and facts
Processes and systems (e.g., the Dewey decimal system)
Federal government works

If I have an idea on my own, is it automatically copyrighted?
No, ideas are not copyrightable. Only ‘tangible forms of expression’ (e.g., a book, play, drawing, film, or photo, etc.) are copyrightable. Once you express your idea in a fixed form — as a digital painting, recorded song, or even notes on scratch paper — it is automatically copyrighted if it is an original work of authorship.
Who owns the copyright?
Creator or author
Author/Creator’s living family and their heirs, if the creator has passed away
Creators of a joint work automatically share copyright ownership unless there is a contrary agreement. (for instance,  if two people write an original song together, they both share the copyright.)
Anyone to whom the author/creator has given or assigned his or her copyright (e.g., an employer if the copyrighted work is created under a “work made for hire” agreement, a publisher or record company if the copyrighted work is given in exchange for a publishing or recording contract). Usually this means that the creator has given up their own copyright in the work.

That doesn’t mean you own the topic; others people can write or discuss it, but they need to find an original way to do so, and not using your material. Your piece can be referred to and cited, but they can’t wholesale copy your work and reproduce it.

How Copyright Works Today: Public Domain Material

Anything published in the United States before 1923 is public domain. You can use, copy, reuse or modify the work without getting the express permission of the original author.

Any content published after 1977 has a copyright for the term of the author’s life, plus 70 years, before entering the public domain.

Content published by the federal government immediately enters the public domain, such as the health information brochures, info from the IRS or other informational products.

Public Domain works can be freely used by anyone, for commercial or noncommercial purposes, without permission from an original copyright owner/author. Public domain status allows the user unrestricted access and use.
These works may be designated for free and unlimited public access, or they may be no longer covered by copyright law because the copyright status has expired or been forfeited by the owner.

Exceptions to Copyright Protection: What Is Fair Use?

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

Fair use allows copyrighted material to be used for a “limited and transformative” purpose in order to make comments, or fun of, the material. Examples are news stories and late night talk shows; for news, journalists use copyrighted materials in order to comment; late night talk shows tend to parody those same materials. Late night TV would be devoid of anything funny without fair use.

What does “limited and transformative” mean?
Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work. http://copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html
4 Factors for Fair Use

Purpose: The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is for commercial use or for nonprofit educational purposes.
Nature: The original intention of the work, whether it was for commercial or noncommercial use.
Amount: The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyright-protected work as a whole.
Effect: The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyright-protected work.

*Attribution is the golden rule  of copyright compliance.  Treat other writers, bloggers, podcasters and  communication professionals the way you’d like to be  treated. Give credit where credit is due.

What about plagiarism?    ( Stealing someone else’s work)
Plagiarism and copyright differ in important ways:

plagiarism is concerned with the protection of ideas,

copyright doesn’t protect ideas – it protects “fixed expressions of ideas.”

Plagiarism is misrepresenting the ownership of an idea.
Plagiarism is wrong, dishonest, don’t do it.
For copyright, check your sources, always credit and make citations and links. ( see above*)

It is common sense and respect for someone else’ work: respect the rules of creation and ownership.

Not sure what is copacetic to copy and share? Give us a call, we’ll be happy to help anytime.   310 828 6979