PR and Fair-Use: What Practitioners Should Know












January 2013

As a PR and communications professional you’re no stranger to disseminating information to your constituents. What you may not be familiar with, however, is copyright compliance and the effects sharing protected content may have on you and your clients.

“Most blogs and online sources are subject to copyright and are not in the public domain. Fair-use allows for limited use of content with proper citation depending on the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, how much of the content is used relative to the work as a whole, and whether the use will affect the potential market for or value of the content. Who is sharing and using the content also is considered when determining if the use falls under the fair-use doctrine,” explains this Copyright Compliance Primer from BurrellesLuce.

In this newsletter, we will explore with you the 4 Ps of copyright compliance:

  • Proper Sharing
  • Proper Copying
  • Proper Citation
  • Proper Monitoring and Distribution

Sharing Content
There is a big difference between copying and pasting an online article into an email or on your own website versus sharing a link to the original content. Most websites and blogs will list the copyright for the content and how it may be shared and used (usually next to the article or somewhere else on the site, such as the About Page). Most will include share buttons because they actually want their content shared across the Internet and in social media. These buttons create links to the original content hosted on the website or blog that owns the content and make it easy for users to share this content with others. However, the content itself is not being copied. The caution with sharing links is to ensure that the link you are sharing is for the original content and that the content was allowed to be shared lawfully in the first place. shares this infographic from Kerry Gorgone and Dan Gorgone on Legal Threat Levels for Online Content-Sharing to help marketers understand the subtle and not so subtle risks of sharing content.

Copying Content
Some bloggers may allow you to copy and paste an entire post onto your blog or website as long as there is a disclaimer in the post that cites the original author and links back to the original post. For this you will need to ask permission, particularly if it is not clear on their site whether this is an acceptable use.

If you wish to copy an entire article, such as pasting one you found on a news site into the body of an email, posting it to your website, or printing copies of it to distribute at a conference, you will need to seek permission. That's true even if the links are in social media and direct the reader to an article about your business or agency or link to articles that you’ve written as features in publications. Some sites will list a “Reprints” button with the share buttons and, in the example of The New York Times, also list a Help Section outlining how to seek permission. Depending on the type of reprint rights purposed, you may be able to host a copy of the original article on your site or share a PDF for printing and distribution. These licenses often require a fee and can be purchased from the publisher without much hassle online. Even if you are sure on how to use the content, it never hurts to reach out and double check.   

Citing Sources
By taking steps to educate yourself about copyright, you are already ahead of the curve and are in a better position to speak with your colleagues about citing sources. By educating yourself, you also put yourself in a better position to lead by example. If you are not already familiar with ways of citing content, such as AP, MLA, or APA, then you will probably want to brush up on the latest style guides. 

In some instances, a simple link back may be enough to credit the source. However, Kerry Gorgone, contributing columnist on Grow, Mark Schaefer’s marketing blog, cautions that attribution may not be enough. “Contrary to popular belief, providing attribution for content you’ve copied and pasted (aka “scraping”) does not protect you from liability. If anything it increases the risk you’ll get sued by alerting the content owner to the infringement,” writes Gorgone in The Essential Guide to Minimizing Legal Risks in Social Media Marketing. (Quote formatting part of the original post).

Additionally, you also should look into Creative Commons licenses to learn how to cite sources and respect the rights of content creators. While written from the perspective of higher education, this primer from Educause Learning Initiative outlines 7 Things You Should Know About Creative Commons and is applicable to PR and marketing professionals seeking to better understand how they may use this content and how to retain their own rights.

Monitoring and Distribution
Copyright violation can expose your organization, clients and constituents to a number of liabilities. If you are not a BurrellesLuce client – don’t assume that your media monitoring service is copyright compliant. Usually organizations that are copyright compliant will explain their compliance efforts. At the very least you will see a line item for royalties and copyright fees on your invoice. Most monitoring services do not want to be in the business of content curation and obtaining agreements with content providers; most services simply wish to aggregate content. This can expose you and your organization to various liabilities. In fact, some media monitoring firms are already seeing the repercussions of these illegal practices and are exposing their clients to lawsuits.

That’s why BurrellesLuce works directly with content providers (for close to 30 years) to establish use agreements that pay publishers royalty fees and allow our clients access to copyrighted content. BurrellesLuce is partnering with Moreover to develop the MetaCAP program to augment those existing publisher agreements, which would allow third-party media monitoring and evaluation services the opportunity to access licensed content for their organization and clients.

It is easy for organizations and professionals to unwittingly fall into the copyright infringement trap. When in doubt, refrain from distributing copyrighted material until you have had the opportunity to contact the original creator and have sought the advice of your legal counsel.

Please remember that while BurrellesLuce has dedicated itself to establishing a turnkey copyright compliance program and building relationships between publishers and content users, the resources we offer are for educational purposes only; BurrellesLuce is not giving legal advice and we defer to the experts – your legal counsel and content publishers on matters specific to your organization. 

About BurrellesLuce

BurrellesLuce is the U.S. leader in media monitoring. Professionals in a wide range of industries rely on our comprehensive curated content from local and national print, online, broadcast, and social media sources. BurrellesLuce has a turnkey copyright compliance program that allows us to provide copyright-compliant, behind-the-paywall content not available to other services. BurrellesLuce combines grade-A content with easy-to-use software, allowing users to evaluate and analyze their media coverage and PR efforts. It's all integrated into our user-friendly interface, BurrellesLuce WorkFlow™.

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