Executives’ habits likely to run afoul of copyright law

When it comes to protecting themselves against copyright infringement, many companies focus on restricting employees' access to information and monitoring their communication with outside entities. However, according to a recent study, the biggest threat comes not from these ground level workers, but rather from the men and women at the top.

The copyright licensing nonprofit Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. recently commissioned a study to examine the information use and sharing habits of executives. It found that almost half of the executives who responded to the survey shared information in a way that put their organizations at risk.

The survey's findings showed that 48 percent of respondents thought it was acceptable to share potentially copyrighted information with others so long as the information was not going to be used commercially. In addition, 45 percent of respondents thought it was acceptable to share digital or print information that they had paid to receive.

The respondents shared this information frequently. The executives who participated in the survey shared potentially copyrighted content with an average of 11.2 people per week. Leaders in the legal, manufacturing, telecommunications and media industries were the most prolific forwarders of information.

Understanding copyright infringement

Copyright infringement can have serious negative consequences, both for the entity whose work is infringed and for the entity whose behavior violated the law. As such, it is important for every business leader to have a clear understanding of what copyright infringement is so that they can work to avoid it.

Copyright is a category of intellectual property law that protects individual works of authorship such as books and articles, images and photographs, computer software, songs and architectural works. These works automatically become copyrighted as soon as they are fixed in copy. Both digital and hard copies qualify. Registration of the copyright provides additional protection.

Generally speaking, the person who created the work owns the copyright. However, when a work is made for hire, the employer owns the copyright.

Copyright infringement exists whenever a person or entity reproduces, distributes or publicly displays a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. Infringement also exists when a derivative work is created from a copyrighted one.

The penalties for copyright infringement can be significant. In a successful copyright infringement lawsuit, the infringing party can be ordered to pay actual damages, penalty fines and attorney fees. In serious criminal cases, copyright infringers can even be sentenced to jail terms.

The best way to prevent a copyright infringement lawsuit is to take proactive steps to keep your business - and its work - safe. An experienced business attorney can work with you to create intellectual property policies that will help you stay on the right side of the law.