Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Venturing Online: Protecting You and Your Product in Cyberspace

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Venturing Online: Protecting You and Your Product in Cyberspace

Article excerpt

When publishers enter cyberspace, media law issues take on a new dimension.

It's not that the types of legal issues change because the information sources and the publication medium are electronic. Reporters must still respect copyrights, and publishers must designate all intended uses in their license agreements. Yet, the very accessibility of online services and the extraordinary research and dissemination opportunities they provide may escalate the risks of copyright and contractual violations. Publishers must be extra vigilant in ensuring that their rights and others' are preserved when they depart from the printed page.

What materials can you republish from the Internet?

The Internet and commercial online services deliver, with a few strokes on the keyboard, late-breaking news, breathtaking photos and features of every description -- all of which can easily be downloaded and stored. Tempting though it may be, journalists must purposely avoid using this material without permission.

Copyright laws apply to materials published electronically just as they do to printed works. Unauthorized reproduction and distribution of materials found online may subject a publisher to liability for infringement.

Importantly, the lack of a copyright notice does not signify that online materials are in the public domain. Under current law, the placement of a copyright notice is strictly optional and a work is fully protected by law -- even in the absence of such a notice. Moreover, journalists cannot claim innocent intent as a defense to copyright infringement. Under copyright law, you may be found to have infringed even if you honestly believed you were free to copy.

Cyberspace offers plentiful sources for journalists to investigate news topics. As a general rule, however, materials found there should be treated no differently than materials published in rival newspapers: do not republish without express permission of the copyright owner.

What materials can a publisher post on the Internet?

Though a publisher may have diligently secured the right to publish each and every item appearing in its newspaper, it does not necessarily have the right to publish the same items in electronic form.

Where a publisher owns the copyright in a particular item outright, it is free to post that item online. Posting a newspaper in its entirety, however, may run afoul of wire service agreements, syndication agreements or contracts with advertising agencies. …

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