Club Newsletters and Copyright Ė How they can affect you and your club.

Copyright by Mike Jordan- Not to be copied or reprinted without permission

12/20/03

 

 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on Bouviers and copyright and what they had in common. That article was inspired by a first hand experience that I had had when a copyrighted photograph of one of our Bouviers that I had taken appeared in another breederís magazine advertisement.

 

During the process of researching copyright law, discussions with two Intellectual Property attorneys, asking questions of the people at the copyright office in Washington D.C., as well as reading actual law written to cover copyright, I learned a lot more than I had previously known.

 

Being a professional photographer in a past life and associating with a lot of professional photographers and artists today, I am aware of the constant battle that many fight to protect their copyrights. Most of you are probably familiar with the legal battles that have been going on in the music industry over illegal copying of songs and the millions of revenue dollars lost to the artists and others in the music industry. This is only one (although probably the most visible at this time) of many groups that are doing their best to protect and enforce the Intellectual Property laws that protect their copyright.

 

Photographers have been waging this battle for some time, as have writers, painters, and cartoonists to name a few. Itís this last group, cartoonists, that has spurred me to write another article about copyrights. At first, just like with Bouviers and copyright, you might not see the connectionÖ but itís there. Also, let me say that I am not a lawyer, although I have and continue to talk to a number of IP lawyers and other knowledgeable sources of copyright law.

 

Most clubs print some kind of newsletter. Some clubs have just a few pages that include meeting minutes, official announcements, information, and upcoming meeting dates. Other clubs put out newsletters that would rival a major magazine, complete with pictures, graphic art, stories, help and advice columns, jokes and cartoons. The purpose is not only to provide official club information but to also entertain the members and non-members that read each issue. Many of these newsletter editors are volunteers who spend their time and energy to put out a quality newsletter monthly, quarterly, or annually. The Dirty Beards is a prime example of a quality newsletter and one that the members of the American Bouvier des Flandres Club can be proud of. It can be difficult for newsletter editors and club members to come up with unique and original information issue after issue, so it is common practice to include articles and artwork found in other sources such as newspapers, magazines, other newsletters, and probably the most widely used source, the internet.

 

In most cases, the information gathered from these sources, not only belongs to someone, but is also protected under U.S. and International copyright law. These laws protect the original creators of this information from the unlawful use by others, regardless of their purpose or intent. This protection prohibits even casual use such as using images as a screen saver on computers, sending articles or images by e-mail to friends, or reprinting items in newsletters without first obtaining permission from the originator or legally authorized agent.

 

I was recently told by one newsletter editor (when asked if she had permission to re-print a syndicated cartoon) that a non-profit club has the right to use material obtained from newspapers, magazines and the internet without permission and that all cartoons and comics published are considered public domain. She further stated that their distribution and use without permission is even encouraged. Itís this type of misguided belief that can get a club into serious legal and/or financial trouble.While there may be copyright holders that will allow a non-profit club to use the material free of charge, an editor cannot assume that is the case, and in all cases, an editor should obtain written permission from the proper authority before reprinting copyrighted material.

 

I have given verbal approval or e-mail approval for the use of my pictures and articles to many of the newsletters and non-profit clubs that have asked. In most cases I am happy to provide permission to newsletters wishing to use my work. There are exceptions to where I want to see my work used, which is why I require permission, as is required by law, first.Several editors, including the Dirty Beards editor, have advance permission to use my Bouvier related material on my web site without asking first. I have talked to a number of photographers, writers and artists, both non-professional and professional and most are happy to allow their work to be published in a non-profit club newsletter. They are not so happy though when they see their work or hear of their work being in a publication when they were not asked first.

 

A simple Google search (google.com is one of the most popular search engines on the internet at this time) will usually disclose the true owner of an article, picture, cartoon, or joke that is found on the internet. Itís even simpler when items of interest are printed in major publications like newspapers, magazines and company brochures and publications. In almost all cases, each one of these will show the publication as the copyright holder or will identify who the copyright holder is.

 

Itís important that the right source is contacted. A newspaper that prints something from a syndicated source for instance does not have the legal right to give permission for that work to be published by someone else. If asked for permission, you should be directed to the actual copyright holder. In some cases a call to the publication is all it takes to find out who the copyright holder is and how to contact them. Most publications have a web site with contact information listed. Many have information for those seeking to reprint something that was seen in their publication. In some cases a free one time use will be granted. In other cases they will charge a fee based on the type of use and the size of the distribution.

 

So what happens if the club prints a cartoon, joke, picture or article without permission? In most casesÖ probably nothing. Not because itís ok or legal but because the copyright holder doesnít know it was done. Iíve heard a number of comments from people when the use of a cartoon without permission was brought up. Comments ranged from ďItís no big dealĒ to asking why get permission ďfrom a major corporation that doesnít give two hoots about some miniscule non-profit dog club newsletter?Ē While they might not give a hoot about a dog club, most do give several hoots about protecting their copyright. Just like trademarks, logos, patents and company names, if they donít protect their copyright, they could end up losing them. Some copyright holders are more aggressive than others when they find unauthorized use of their work. Some might give permission after the fact and some might send a bill for the use. Some major agencies have a normal practice of sending a bill for three to ten times the normal cost in a situation like this. If the bill isnít paid, then they can file suit in Federal Court for copyright infringement, and even if the club doesnít end up paying damages, they could still end up paying for all legal fees incurred by the copyright holder during litigation. That sort of penalty could be a real financial hit for a dog club.

 

From the questions Iíve asked and the people Iíve talked to, in most cases mistakes like this are just that, a mistake. Some people really donít understand copyright law and how the works of others are protected by it. This is why a club should have a newsletter editor that not only has skills in computer, software, formatting, fonts, and publishing, but also one who understands and respects copyright issues. These laws apply not only to pictures, but to any work that is not created by the newsletter editor. If the newsletter editor doesnít understand copyright law, then there should be someone else in the club who does and is appointed to provide guidance to the newsletter editor in regard to any material that is included in the newsletter.

 

Copyright is not only the law, but itís only right that those that did the work get the credit they deserve. If the proper authority or owner canít be found, then itís probably best to pass up printing it.Also, let me point out that the copyright law does not just protect the big syndications, newspapers and magazines.They also protect individuals like you and me.We have the same legal protection (and clout) under copyright law as the big companies do.

 

I would be interested in hearing from any club or person that has been in a club that has had to deal with copyright issues. I have started collecting copyright information as it pertains to dog clubs and organizations like ours and Iím interested in any information that others have. If I can help prevent even one club from having to deal with a copyright infringement suit, it will have been worth my time. Any information that is sent will be held in confidence if requested.

 

For more information on copyright and the laws, you can check out the web site of the Library of Congress at: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/

 

If I can answer any questions, I will be happy to. I can be reached at mjordan@europa.com or through my web site at http://www.sitnprettyphoto.com.