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Who Owns This Work? - 7/13/2016 -

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 international law.

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 the importance of posting terms of use on websites and blogs and obtaining 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 notice or trademark registration, and failure to post terms of use for online content are some of the frequent pitfalls the presenters hoped to help publishers avoid.

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.


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