December 11, 2015 / by Katie Gaab

Sharing (content) is caring… that is if you and your team are complying with copyright laws. But when was the last time you sat your team down for training?

Each week, people share content with a minimum of 11 people in their network.

At first glance, that number doesn’t impress. But if you start multiplying 11 by all your employees, influencers, loyal customers and all of their followers who publicly retweet, link to or favorite your content, the number grows exponentially.

And as the ways in which we share content and the number of people we can reach increases, so too does the possibility of copyright violations, messy lawsuits and hefty fines.

Refresh your memory on the two most basic rules of copyright, get a glimpse at a few recent rulings and start pinpointing how your brand should involve executives, managers and others in this discussion.



That’s the year that determines what’s already considered public domain.

Anything that was published before 1923 is fair game for marketers, advertisers or PR professionals to use in campaigns, whether the content is used, copied or modified. In other words, you do not need to ask for permission before using this type of content.

Example: In a recent federal ruling, the copyright on “Happy Birthday to You” was determined to be invalid..” “Good Morning To All,” which lent its melody to the traditional birthday tune, debuted in 1893, long before 1923, making “Happy Birthday to You” part of the public domain.


Anything published on or after January 1, 1978 has a slightly more complicated formula.  To put it briefly, this grouping of content is protected for the entirety of the creator’s life, plus another 70 years.

However, any content published by the federal government, including handouts from the CDC, are considered public domain.

The Copyright Act of 1976 remains the most referenced copyright law, yet has seen major amendments (which we’ll discuss next).

Example: While Germany has its own set of copyright laws and important years to remember, it also marks copyright expiration 70 years after an author’s death. Scholars and historians discussed in The New York Times how they will soon publish a very controversial work: “Mein Kampf.” After December 31, they will debut a new edition of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto.
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Back in the early days of the Internet, when AOL ruled the way we communicated, President Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law includes five titles which speak to online service providers, temporary copies of programs and broadcasting.

This is where the black and white smear to make multiple shades gray. In addition to the five main titles, the DMCA deals with everything from how you can share content on social media to what to do before issuing a takedown notification.

Example: For those in the automobile, gaming or telecommunication industries, take note. In October 2015, judges ruled it lawful to tinker with a car’s software, “jailbreak” mobile phones and modify old video games.


You now know a thing or two about basic U.S. copyright laws, but does your brand also do business in Europe?

New legislation on how Europe protects digital work is slated to become official by 2017. Focusing on the online sale of goods and supply of streaming content, the proposals would remove the digital borders of the 28 countries which constitute the European Union.

This could mean big benefits for major streaming media companies like Netflix, whose services made up 37.05 percent of streaming traffic in the U.S. this year.

There’s no doubt that copyright is a tricky subject to master, but with periodical trainings, internal wikis and other resources on hand, your brand can maintain its reputation in the industry and prevent an avoidable crisis.

Learn how copyright laws can protect your brand’s reputation. Read Cision’s free white paper today!


Images: inspector_81Archie (Creative Commons)

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About Katie Gaab

Katie Gaab is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Previously the senior editor for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), she enjoys connecting audiences to exciting, new content. She's a dancer, avid concert-goer, foreign language nerd and book worm. Find her on Twitter @kathryngaab.