PR TECHNIQUE PRESS CLIPPINGS: Clippings and the copyrightconundrum

Copyright laws binding the use of press clippings can be a minefield, particularly with the explosion of online publications. Sara Calabro finds out how to clip by the rules

Copyright laws binding the use of press clippings can be a minefield, particularly with the explosion of online publications. Sara Calabro finds out how to clip by the rules

When a professor makes copies of a particular chapter of a textbook, and distributes it to his class in an effort to save students a little money, then - assuming the professor has not gotten permission from the author or publisher - that is a copyright violation.

Similarly, copyright is also violated when a single copy of a published newsletter arrives at the front desk of a large corporation, and an employee proceeds to make 50 additional copies to distribute throughout the company.

Assuming that the subscription cost is around $5 for each copy of that newsletter, the publisher has lost out on $250 because the copyright was infringed.

"Copyright laws are violated all the time, confirms Richard Weiner, senior consultant for Porter Novelli and representative of Luce Information Services. "This is obvious when you walk into Kinko's to copy a page from a magazine. They'll point to a machine, but they will not physically do it for you. Because there are so many nuances surrounding copyright laws, Kinko's (and similarly, universities and public libraries) would rather play it safe and remain "unaware of what could be regarded as a copyright infringement.

PR professionals, and the clipping services they rely on, should be aware of how to navigate copyright issues to ensure they do not burn any bridges with the media - the essential core around which their businesses can succeed or fail.

"PR people's lifeblood is working with the media, so if you rip them off, you're going to have a really tough sell in trying to get your clients to appear in that publication again, says Bruce Funkhouser, VP, business operations for the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC).

The CCC was set up in 1978 to provide licensing systems for the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted materials, and attempts to simplify and organize the process of seeking individual permission from a publisher to reprint or distribute materials in which a client received mention. Opposed to spending time trying to get through to each individual publication, seekers can contact the CCC, which knows the prices and other specifications for using each publication's content.

Funkhouser is hesitant to reveal exact rates, but encourages all PR pros to contact his organization to ensure that the handling of their press clippings is lawful. "Some pubs are free, and some charge hundreds of dollars to use their articles. Certain journals only publish once a year - medical and scientific journals, for example - so of course that is going to cost a lot more than a daily. And they are going to take especially unkindly to materials being used without permission."

While copy machines are enough of a nemesis to those attempting to enforce lawful copyright practices, the increasing number of online publications has enhanced the problem. Patricia Eyres, president of Litigation Management and Training Services, who served as a corporate defense attorney for 18 years, says, "Having these clips available online has made it a lot easier to cut, paste, and infringe."

There is a commonly held false belief that if something is available on the internet, it is free for anyone to use. But retyping, copying and pasting, and printing out and faxing articles from an online publication without getting permission from the publisher, are all violations of copyrights.

E-mailing a link to an article, however, is not in violation because you are technically only distributing the right for someone to view that article, and not the article itself.

At the same time that technology is changing the method of delivering a newspaper's content, press-clipping services are changing their offerings. Online delivery of clips is becoming increasingly popular. In an attempt to help alleviate the possibility of copyright infringement, some press-clipping services have agreements with online publications that allow them to send clippings electronically, without having to get permission on a transactional basis.

"When publications began appearing online - in addition to the regular print versions - a fear began to develop that clients might see media placements before their PR agencies had a chance to, says Michael Buxbaum, VP of business development for Bacon's. "In response to this fear that agencies would not always have time to present clips in the way they saw fit to each client, we negotiated distribution rights with the publications."

The newly formed agreements between press-clipping services and online publications are indicative of an "increasing need for business intelligence, according to Buxbaum. When client mentions are viewed in an e-mail or online, less value is placed on what the clip actually looks like, indicating that the meaning is more important than the actual clip itself.

Because copyrights are in place to prevent competition, PR pros often do not realize an infringement is taking place when clips are shared with the intention of spreading an underlying message about a company. This is, however, still a violation of the copyright on that material. Permission is always needed to distribute the clips, regardless of purpose.

While electronic clips have begun to evolve press-clipping services into two separate entities (a tool for understanding media messages and a method for tracking publicity), the advancements have not completely phased out regular paper clippings. "There will always be a demand for actually holding that original piece of paper in your hand, says Buxbaum. "You can't post an electronic clip in a nice matted frame and hang it in the hallway."

Regardless of whether it is in dealing with online materials or old-fashioned newsprint, the message that all clipping-service and copyright professionals are eager to get out to agencies and corporations interested in extending the life of a clip beyond the original publication is: Get permission.

While a tarnished relationship with a publication is perhaps the greatest consequence of violating a copyright law, Eyres also points out that once a company is warned for violation, any subsequent offenses are counted as willful infringement - for which there is potential for a "treble, or a fine of three times the determined damages.


1 Do send just the link of an online article, as opposed to cutting and pasting materials to be passed on. The former is legal, the latter is not

2 Do make certain that all employees are aware of the company's policies regarding uses of press clippings. It is often junior staffers who handle incoming clips

3 Do be aware that clipping services are not responsible for warning the clients about what uses of materials are permissible. It is not their job to counsel clients on what to do with clips after they are handed over

1 Don't think just getting a warning for copyright infringement means you got away with it. If you're caught again, you'll be charged with willfully infringing, for which the penalties are severe

2 Don't assume a copyright holder wouldn't mind having its material reprinted.

Even if it isn't done to intentionally violate copyright laws, reprinting in any form needs to be cleared with the publication or original distributor

3 Don't abuse the privilege of being able to use excerpts from clips without having to clear it with the copyright holder. An excerpt does not mean an entire article, with some tiny alterations.

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