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How to Handle Copyright’s 50 Shades of Gray

A copyright is legal protection for your creative works and ideas that are published, broadcast, or presented or displayed publicly. According to current laws in the U.S., the moment you publish anything, say, a SlideShare or blog post, it comes under copyright for the duration of your life, plus 70 years.

Seems simple enough, but you know the subject can get complicated on even the best of days, if not downright messy. Copyright has always been a bit, well, “gray.” It has nuances that only the trained eye can see.
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Fortunately, you can take steps to handle the gray, which may or may not come in 50 shades. Check out these three tips:


Citing sources is the golden rule of copyright compliance. It’s about treating peers—other writers, podcasters, vloggers and communications professionals—the way you want to be treated. If you wish to be cited by others, start by citing them first.

Brian Solis would encourage you to be the “change agent.” No one’s going to implement copyright compliance just because. It’ll start when someone takes the first step and leads the way.

There is help with that; Maria Popova of Brainpickings has created the “Curator’s Code.” It clarifies why attribution is important and gives practical tips for doing so.

If you’re more interested in having people reuse original branded content, check out Creative Commons. They have several licenses available, including one specific to attribution.


It’s rare that a person intends to violate someone else’s copyright. In fact, it usually happens because they didn’t know the work was copyrighted or didn’t understand the best ways to reuse the content.

That reason is one of many for ongoing education and training. Keep teammates informed of best practices. Create an internal wiki that houses up-to-date information and resources. Have trainings based on events in the news.

Also involve executives, managers and other influential employees. You can effect a lot of change on your own, but you’ll accomplish even more if leaders at the organization set the example.



You’ve safeguarded your content. Everything’s good to go, right?

Not so fast. If you struggle with copyright, other people are bound to, too. Keep track of your content. Use alerts and social listening software. If you keep an ear to the ground, so to speak, you’ll almost always know where and how your content is being used.

Also, document everything and establish a rhythm for reviewing content and copyrights. A person who infringes upon copyright once probably isn’t someone to worry about. A repeat offender may require legal action.

That doesn’t make you the bad guy, though it may feel that way. You’re doing your job. And by doing it, you help others to do the same. Everyone wins when content is used fairly and according to copyright; no one ever gets lost in the shades of gray.

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Images: Jon Westra, Mark Fischer (Creative Commons)

About Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media. When she isn’t researching, writing, and editing blog posts and white papers, she writes poetry and essays, draws her favorite Write Right character, and plans what art form to study next. She’s based in Austin, Texas and can be found on Twitter @erinmfeldman.

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