Who Owns This Work?
Legal experts debunk several myths about content and art
ownership that commonly come up during the course of association publishing.
By Deborah Zak
After paying a designer for a custom illustration, does the
artwork automatically become the property of the association? Is an article
published on your association’s website or blog copyright protected simply by
virtue of being posted online?
These questions were addressed by Jefferson Glassie, Esq,
and Dorothy Deng, Esq, during the 2016 Association Media & Publishing
Annual Meeting session, "Top Legal Concerns in Publishing – Things You Need to
Know.” In addition to copyright law for print and internet publications, the presenters
shared information on protecting trademarks under United States and
Copyright and Content
"Get it in writing,” stressed Deng regarding copyright
and content ownership. A work created by a freelance designer, for example, is
the property of that designer unless the association executes the proper
paperwork. In such cases, an agreement should assign the rights of the product
to the association; otherwise, the designer technically retains the rights to
use the work in any manner they choose.
Deng reviewed the basic tenets of copyright law, noting
that copyright is a "bundle of rights” that includes the right to sell,
distribute, reproduce, translate, and create derivative works. Although rights
accrue upon creation of the work, that is when one "puts pen to paper,”
registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office provides the owner with
more evidence should copyright infringement occur and a case be taken to court.
When publishing the copyright mark, Deng noted that the word "copyright” should
also be included, as readers accessing the content via mobile devices may not
be able to view the copyright symbol.
Protecting Online Content
Publishers should monitor the internet for infringement of
their copyright protected content, Deng reminded the audience. Google alerts
and similar tools can be used to watch online content. Should infringement
occur, cease and desist letters are often effective in prompting the violator
to remove the content.
The provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act also
provide content owners certain rights, protections, and courses of action to
address copyright infringement. In accordance with the law, for example,
YouTube provides a form that content owners may submit should any infringing
content appear on the video share platform. YouTube reviews such requests and
can remove the offending content if deemed appropriate. Glassie and Deng also discussed
defensive domains to prevent cybersquatting.
Trademarks — Use It or Lose It
As an overview for those new to legal issues in
publishing, Glassie reviewed the distinction between copyright and trademark
ownership. The rights for trademarked logos, names, and acronyms accrue upon
use, stressed Glassie. For example, registering a trademarked logo with the
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is advisable, but if the association does not
publish or "use” the logo, the trademark is considered a dead mark.
Glassie also reviewed the steps to screen marks for
uniqueness prior to seeking trademark registration. The more unique the name or
logo, the stronger the mark. Apple®, for example, is a strong mark for a
computer brand. Successfully registering a mark provides the owner with
procedural protections. Glassie also reminded trademarks owners that registrations
must be renewed on the fifth and tenth years of ownership.
Regarding international trademark protection, Glassie
noted that in most countries other than the U.S. the rule is "first to file,”
rather than "first to use.” He advised filing for registration in every country
in which your marks will be used.
Knowledge of copyright and trademark law, and taking
action on that knowledge, can help association publishers avoid common legal
"mistakes,” the presenters noted in closing. Mistakes such as lack of legal
assignment for copyright protected content, incorrect display of copyright
content are some of the frequent pitfalls the presenters hoped to help
Related resources and additional details are included in
the presenters’ slideshow, which is available on the Association Media &
Publishing Annual Meeting website.
Deborah Zak is communications manager at the National
Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Association Media & Publishing sincerely
thanks her for covering this Annual Meeting 2016 session for members of our
community who were unable to attend.