Applied Information Management

Framing, Defining, and Implementing a Copyright Compliance Policy to Manage Risk in a Digital Publishing Environment

In Brief: Failure to use information properly in business communications can result in inefficiency, exposure to risk, security incidents, failure to meet customer obligations, financial liability, and negative publicity. Digital elements (photos, maps, graphics, charts, and other visual elements) have become highly vulnerable to copyright infringement, due to the influence of the Internet. The ease of access to and transmission of digital elements makes publishing documents easier than ever. As pointed out by Lutzker (2003), the biggest point of contention in Internet infringement is the photograph, in that almost perfect copies can be made, used, and distributed with ease.

The global Internet can expose a company's most valuable resources to third parties.

This study presents a guide that examines copyright compliance policy related to digital graphic elements in an organization, including (a) the need for a copyright compliance policy in any organization that uses communications staff to publish documents using digital graphic elements, (b) analysis of current copyright compliance policies related to digital graphic elements, and (c) a copyright compliance policy implementation plan focused on the use of digital graphic elements. The guide is designed to serve as a resource for communications professionals who use digital graphic media to publish on a digital platform, including members of publications, communications, or marketing staff; technical specialists; technical editors; technical writers; graphic designers, and anyone who works collaboratively on communications. The common characteristic among these professionals is that they often use digital graphic elements as they create communications for profit, including reports, presentations, memorandums, brochures, websites, and advertisements, usually with no intent to infringe upon copyright laws. Figure 1 presents an abbreviated overview of a comprehensive copyright compliance implementation plan.

Frame a copyright compliance plan
Plan ahead
(Jackson, 2007)
  • Start today. Don't wait for a potential infringement situation to appear.
Audit current copyright use and policies
(Donoghue, 2010)
  • Are photocopied copyrighted materials routinely e-mailed or PDFed and sent to distribution lists?
  • Are any educational materials posted at copy machines, PDF stations, or common work areas?
  • How often are employees currently reminded of the organization's copyright compliance approach?
Build a copyright compliance plan
Involve a representative for everyone who has an interest in using copyrighted information
(Weiner, 1997)
  • Form a copyright compliance team or board to assess all the stakeholders, keep the policy in check, and serve as a guiding force.
Locate the various forms and keepers of data
(Jackson, 2007)
  • Make a list of the kinds of materials and data your organization uses that might be subject to copyright. Brainstorming often reveals materials and users that might have been overlooked.
Know what is legally required
(Jackson, 2007)
  • Ask permission first. Asking permission of the author is the easiest first step in copyright compliance, whether the author is a large corporation or an independent artist.
  • Consider buying a Copyright Clearance Center license.
Implement a copyright compliance plan
Adopt policies
(Jackson, 2007)
  • Outline the process your organization will use to address copyrighted materials, such as:
    • Maps: Our organization has purchased a Jonathan's Maps license.
    • Photos: Our organization has a signed agreement with Jonathan's Clip Art service, so all clip art is half price and royalty-free.
    • Graphic elements: Our organization has an internal graphics department that can create informational elements.
Publish your copyright policy, update it often, and keep your constituency well informed
(Weiner, 1997)
  • Establish and communicate the copyright compliance procedures.
Determine copyright training needs
(Butler & Parker, 2009)
  • Examine corporate policy in the employee handbook.
  • Ensure corporate copyright compliance policy explains expectations for employees on handling copyrighted materials.
Audit the copyright process for compliance
(Butler & Parker, 2009)
  • Provide feedback for copyright process improvement at regular and scheduled intervals against outlined milestones.

Figure 1—Copyright Compliance Implementation Plan


AIM alumna Amy Norred

Research Paper Author: Amy Norred, CH2M HILL—2010 AIM Graduate

Abstract: Digital technology allows unprecedented access to information (Armstrong, 2005). This study examines selected literature published between 1990 and 2010 to provide communications professionals working in the United States with a fourteen-point guide to help frame, build, and implement a copyright compliance policy related to the use of digital graphic elements including photos, maps, and pictographs. Focus is on the use of a policy to reduce financial liability as part of a larger risk management program.

Download the entire Capstone research project