“The best things in life are free,” sang the Beatles. And yes, although a lot of web content is freely available, it can’t always be used for free. The same copyright rules governing re-use of published material from books, magazines, and newspapers also apply to the Internet. Companies casually copying and distributing such content – even if the stories are about them – may find themselves facing financial penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. (By the way, such exposure may exist even if the company acquires such content through a paid news aggregation service.)
Now, maybe the surviving Beatles can afford to pay such stiff penalties, but today’s enterprise organizations would be better off avoiding such dangers. After all, they already have to pay their share to the Tax Man. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me…”
To avoid such exposure, it’s critical that organizations understand the limits of the legal term “fair use.”
What is “Fair Use”?
The courts have repeatedly ruled individuals and organizations can use small chunks of copyrighted material royalty-free if:
- It is merely a statement of fact rather than a “creative expression.”
- The chosen content is relatively small in relation to the whole, such as a one- or two-sentence excerpt. [Think: pithy one sentence lyrics from British Invasion rock bands cleverly inserted into an informative blog.]
- It is being used for non-commercial purposes, such as education.
- The use is “transformative,” meaning it substantially changes the nature of the content (such as parody; see above.)
- The copied work does not pose an economic or competitive threat to the copyright holder.
How to Avoid Exposure from Copyrighted Material
Now that we better understand the scope of what’s legal — and what’s not — when it comes to using content, here are some simple ways your company can reduce and/or prevent copyright violation risks in research applications:
- Do not copy and distribute the full-text of copyrighted news articles or other content from websites — even internally. (Yes, your organization may looove a particular article and want to share all of it with others. We get it. But just say no.)
- Make sure even your applications do not encourage copying and redistribution of the full-text.
- Lastly, actively discourage your employees from working around copyrights by use of techniques, such as copying web pages or article text and attaching the content to emails, posting it on internal collaboration sites, or using it in newsletters.
As for Web content aggregated by an external vendor, such as a private research portal, make sure your content aggregator:
- Provides only indexes, citation metadata, tags, and short excerpts. These activities are traditional fair use by indexing services.
- Provides excerpts that are a small fraction of the original text. (These pieces should not be so complete as to substitute for the original document.)
- Does not serve copies of copyrighted material from the aggregator’s own repositories rather than connecting you to the original content.
- Does not have search portal application features or documentation that facilitate copying, saving, or distributing the full-text from websites.
- Uses links to the original documents in every use case, promoting the use of the original material. Speaking of links, portal applications should also save links when documents are bookmarked, share links when the articles are shared, and post links when articles are posted to collaboration pages. (Working with links to the original web pages instead of copies of the content from web pages is a copyright-compliant means of saving, sharing, and posting.)
- Has a policy and practice to exclude content from any source that objects to being included.
- Licenses full-text content with redistribution rights from sources deemed to be essential.
Last, it never hurts to have your legal department review the solutions that you are considering licensing for copyright compliance. In fact, do this before you license the solution!
The Northern Light Solution
Speaking of solutions, Northern Light believes in keeping the music going. We don’t want to see bands break up — er… we mean companies break up — due to hefty copyright fines. To this end, we provide aggregation of web and licensed news and research content for companies of all sizes. Our SinglePoint application uses cutting edge advanced machine learning to scan literally millions of documents, presenting results in ways specifically tailored to the needs of each client. Yet at the same time, we are meticulous about adhering strictly to all legal and regulatory requirements.