Full Circle Communications

June 2013
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past issues on such topics as design tips for writers and speechwriting.

ease in writing?
"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 
Note he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just as dance lessons can help get you around the floor more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two to improve your writing.

Recipient of a 2012 Constant Contact All Star Award.
Copyrights: What You Need to Know

Photos, articles, video, or music you find online--how (if at all) can you use them? And how protected are your own or your organization's original works?

According to attorney Matthew Levy, copyright protection is based on centuries-old law, with some twists for the digital age. Here are a few points he made at a presentation at the Alexandria Small Business Center and in some follow-up conversation. (Note his information represents his own views and does not constitute legal advice.)

What do copyrights cover?  
Copyrights cover almost anything created--including writing, photographs, music, film/video, performances. You should assume that anything you see online is covered by copyright unless specifically stated otherwise.

Do I have to register a work to be copyrighted? 
Copyright is automatic. Registration through the Copyright office of the Library of Congress allows you to sue for higher damages for infringement should it occur. Think of it this way: You probably want to register your book or script opus, but not your last blog post. Similarly, you probably wouldn't register a work that you do not mind being shared without remuneration (see below).

How do copyrights apply to social media? 
It's complicated, as you probably expected. As an example: a meme. As Levy pointed out, Dos Equis is not going to sue when thousands of potential customers circulate their own memes with the Dos Equis man. He noted there have been some concerns about Pinterest, which is based on users posting photos that appeal to them from elsewhere rather than creating their own content. (Pinterest's copyright policy is here.)

What about links versus excerpts? 
Levy said a link to someone's copyrighted material should be okay. A short excerpt with a link probably constitutes fair use, but he recommends not making any assumptions. When in doubt, ask.

In my own experience, I see a distinction in the copyright holder's willingness to allow an excerpt when he/she/it is monetizing the content versus the organization that wants to "get the word out" about its issues. Likewise, I have seen a difference when I have wanted to use the material in something distributed for free versus produced to sell.

Does an email constitute permission to use someone's copyrighted material? 
If you see something online that you would like to use in your own online or other material, email the copyright holder to explain your intention. A reply email of consent constitutes agreement by the copyright holder.

What happens if my organization inadvertently posts copyrighted material? 
If you publish material from many disparate contributors (for example, guest bloggers), Levy suggests registering as a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) agent. Developed to protect internet Service Providers, you are required to take down the material as soon as you learn about it and to notify the copyright infringer, but your organization is not liable.

What are other resources? 
This summary only touches the surface of what is involved in copyrights today. If your situation is complicated, consult a copyright attorney.

If you just need more background, here are a few places I found with useful information:

Library of Congress U.S. Copyright Office

Plagiarism Today (good article about memes)

New Media Rights (good article on registering as a DMCA agent)  
HistoryIt All Started with Movable Type

Attorney Matthew Levy shared an abbreviated history of copyright law, which he considers important to understand where we are today. With apologies, I have truncated it further, but more complete histories are available online.

With movable type came copyright infringement. The Stationers Company in London kept a log in which, for a fee, authors would "register" their work.

But outside of England, no one particularly heeded the register.

Statute of Anne: A book published in England was protected for 14 years, with the possibility of renewal for another 14 years.

U.S. Copyright Act enacted, covering maps, charts, and books created by Americans. Enterprising Americans, thus, pirated works created by non-Americans.

Charles Dickens visited America to, among other things, press his case for strong U.S. copyrights for non-U.S. authors.

The list of copyrightable works began to grow, including music compositions, newspapers, painting, and photographs--thus, recognizing new technology.

The Berne Convention was the first international attempt to coordinate copyrights. The U.S. attended but did not sign, and the U.S. and Europe developed parallel systems.

1909 and 1912
Two U.S. copyright acts were passed--creating a 28-year term with 28-year renewal and covering piano rolls (in 1909, big business) and movies.

1955 to 1976
Start of a 20-year project by the U.S. copyright office to review U.S. law, resulting in the 1976 Copyright Act that is more in line with Europe--no registration required, life + 50 years.

1998 and 2002
Legislation extended a copyright to the creator's life + 70 years. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted to deal with internet and other digital assets. 

April 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of this newsletter.

Check out the archive of the issues I've sent out since then.

Also, in late 2EaseinWritingCover012, I compiled many of the articles first published in this newsletter into an ebook. If you haven't seen it yet, view or download a complimentary copy on my website.

Have an idea for a future issue of the newsletter? Please let me know.
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