Copyright laws could catch out small businesses, as content marketing rises

Businesses which infringe copyright laws could face hefty fines if caught in a crackdown by watchdog the Copyright Agency, an intellectual property lawyer has warned.

Copying published articles and posting them onto a website, or sending them in emails, could get a business into strife.

Even if the company is named in a piece, or they in fact wrote and submitted a story to a media outlet, they could still get fined.

The Copyright Agency has confirmed that in the past 18 months, more than 36 copyright infringement actions have been enforced, with some royalties in excess of $70,000.

Finlaysons IP, media and technology partner John MacPhail says the Copyright Agency’s role is to protect the rights of authors, journalists and media outlets by collecting royalties on their behalf.

The process requires they investigate websites and other publishing platforms for breaches of the original publisher’s rights under the Copyright Act.

MacPhail told SmartCompany that most employers and their staff may not know that scanning, storing and sending a newspaper clipping via email is likely to be a breach of copyright, even if it is just sent to the desk next to them.

With content marketing on the rise, and businesses now creating their own websites, blogs, email direct mail campaigns and social media posts, the need to find and share content is greater than ever.

This could breed more incidents of copying a story or republishing it, without permission, MacPhail says.

“The most clear-cut and obvious examples are when there is no attempt to comment on a piece…it is a complete lift of a piece,” he says.

All industries are accountable for upholding copyright laws, MacPhail warns, from financial services to retail, public relations, property and more.

MacPhail advises that business should educate their staff members about copyright laws, to ensure that they do not breach them.

Businesses could also consider getting a copyright licence appropriate to their needs if they intend to republish a lot of articles. A licence can cover employees for copying, communicating and storing third party material, MacPhail explains. He says some licences could cost less than $1000 for a small business.

He says small businesses should adopt a model that doesn’t involve copying or sending third party content, or find ways to negotiate directly with the content owners for permission to reproduce.

If staff are concerned that their business appears to be breaching copyright laws, the Copyright Agency has a ‘dob in an employer’ website called Copywatch, which is an outlet for people to report on companies.

MacPhail says the big media companies support the Copyright Agency’s crackdown on breaches, as the fines can help bring in revenue.

“Unfortunately, a lot of smaller businesses will get caught up in the net. It can be a costly way to learn about copyright laws that most people have ignored for years.”