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Copyrights and responsibilities

Copyright is something that everyone is aware of. But does everyone really understand how it works? Businesses need to be aware of the serious costs copyright infringement can carry including fines of up to $585,000, not to mention the reputational damage legal proceedings can have on a business.

A recent Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) webinar, hosted by the Copyright Agency, explained some common issues that come out of copyright.

The Copyright Agency acts on behalf of publishers, authors, visual artists, photographers and journalists. Originally set up for government departments and education institutions it now provides the wider business world with access to copyrighted materials in exchange for license fees.

A Copyright Agency licence allows you to legally copy and share newspaper and magazine articles internally and with clients, as well as access a range of other creative material.

License fees are disbursed to the original creators of the work, ensuring that their creative output is protected and that they are paid properly for their work.

Businesses who fail to use a license, or who don’t use it correctly, risk being sued or prosecuted. Here are some important things to remember when dealing with copyright material.

Copyright automatically applies
Whether the © symbol is displayed or not, whether it’s on the internet or in print, whether you change the work or credit the work; copyright always applies.

Contractors keep the copyright
Unless your contract explicitly states otherwise, consultants and contractors retain the rights to the work they create. This applies to things like photography, collateral and video. If you are going to use the creative for something other than what it was originally commissioned for you should always go back to the creator.

However, work produced by employees of an organisation, in their normal line of work, is the property of that organisation, not of the employee.

Consultants can cover your copyright obligations, but only so much
There are some complexities around the use of copyrighted material a company receives from their consultants. A media monitoring service or communications consultant will have a Copyright Agency licence to cover them sending newspaper and magazine articles to you, but that doesn’t cover you sending on to others internally or externally. The bottom line is if you want to share newspaper and magazine articles internally or externally you should have your own Copyright Agency licence.

Copyright outlives its creator
Copyright lasts for 70 years after the creator of the work dies. It’s good to note, however, that all photographs taken before 1 January 1955 are out of copyright.

The statute of limitations in Australia six years for copyright, meaning that if someone finds you breached copyright five years ago they can still seek damages.