Learn when — and how — to enforce your association’s rights.
By Kathryn Furtaw Keuneke, CAE
In the association culture of
doing everything you can for your members, it’s sometimes difficult to know
when to enforce your organization’s rights as copyright owner. After all,
members expect that we’re here to serve them, so surely we won’t mind if they
"borrow” something we’ve created — especially if they found it online.
So, how do you determine when a
line has been crossed?
Attorneys Lisa V. Comforty and
Gareth E. Gollrad helped clarify the boundaries of a healthy association-member
relationship regarding intellectual property in the November 2012 Business of
Association Publishing session "The Tangled Web: Copyrights and Contracts for
Association Publishers in the Digital Age.”
Comforty, the managing editor of
periodicals for the American Bar Association, and Gollrad, attorney at Gareth
E. Gollrad LLC, acknowledged that addressing copyright law is difficult for
associations. "We’re different,” Comforty said. "People expect to take stuff
from us for free.”
The presenters walked attendees
through the answers to three common contract and copyright law questions dealing
with member authors:
Can an author post his article on his firm’s
website and link to it on the association website?
Can the author post or link to an accompanying
Can a nonprofit organization post or link to the
The answers to these questions
were far less clear-cut than expected, with a lot of "maybes” and "it depends.” Deciding on scenarios like these
requires a careful look at the specific circumstances, attendees learned. In
general, Comforty explained, a member author can post and link to their
article. But, she said, the right thing for them to do is to ask first.
Comforty and Gollrad provided
several tips to help attendees develop a framework for their own decision-making:
- Consult the contract. Before
responding to the author’s request, make sure to revisit the details of
the contract they’ve signed regarding the submitted work.
- Consider a revision. Author
contracts can be revised to better fit the association’s goals. "Copyright
law gives you a lot of flexibility to create a contract that meets your
needs,” Gollrad said.
- Respect the relationship. If you
could risk upsetting a member over your decision, make sure it’s
worthwhile to the association.
- Seek advice. Know who you can
consult — whether someone in-house or outside legal advice — when a
situation arises that you’re unsure how to handle.
- Weigh the cost. Consider whether
honoring the member’s request (or looking the other way when they’ve
already done it) will cause lost revenue or harm your organization’s
- Write it down. Learn from past
experiences by recording the specific situation and your decision. These
written policies will guide staff, saving time and frustration the next
time an issue arises.
If you don’t yet have an author
contract or yours is badly in need of revision, Comforty and Gollrad advised keeping
your organization’s mission and revenue needs in mind, and soliciting input from
others throughout your organization. Once it’s created, plan to revisit the
contract, as circumstances will surely change over time.
When the time comes when you have
to give a member author a slap on the wrist for a copyright violation, remember
to be gentle in your approach. After all, we’re ultimately here to serve our
Kathryn Furtaw Keuneke, CAE, is editor of Round the Table, the
bimonthly magazine of the Million Dollar
Round Table. Association Media & Publishing sincerely
thanks her for covering this education session for our members who were unable