Whether we are publishing our own book in print or in an electronic format, creating a blog, producing a YouTube video, writing an article as a freelancer, contributing to another’s blog, linking to others’ content or embedding it into our work, inevitably we are faced with hard questions regarding copyright compliance.
Where to Begin. A wise first step for all indie publishers is to become familiar with U. S. Copyright Law and the Fair Use Doctrine. A good place to start is the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. It offers as downloads, circulars on many topics related to copyright.
Such self-education in these terms is helpful. However, in today’s publishing world, making wise, ethical, and responsible decisions regarding many complicated copyright compliance issues oftentimes requires applying established copyright laws and copyright- use rules in a new publishing paradigm based on new technologies and resulting new procedures. It involves weighing risks that copyright owners and courts will disagree with the legality and ethics of our applications. Such decision making can be much better informed by getting a handle on current widely-held expectations regarding copyright in the world of publishing and social media. A knowledge of commonly acceptable ways of approaching solutions to sticky copyright compliance issues in any area of publishing could be helpful to the indie publisher charged with making copyright compliance decisions.
Where to Look for Answers. One place the indie publisher can look for guidance is in Best Practices documents regarding publishing in various media and formats. Looking to Best Practices for suggested ways to apply the laws set forth in our constitution to our copyright compliance practices make us better able to come up with reasonable approaches to compliance where grey areas exist.
What are Best Practices? They consist of guidelines, principles, rules, recommendations, ethics, and ideas. Often, they appear in areas where standards cover broad practices and do not speak to specific day-to-day scenarios or have not been updated to cover advances in technology and changes in various field’s practices. The techniques and procedures suggested by the creators of Best Practice carry with them the claim that they have been proven. They are created by a person or persons commonly perceived to be experts in the field they are addressing.
Caution When Applying Best Practices to Specific Situations. It is important to understand that Best Practices operate in certain contexts, and some approaches to solutions in one context do not transfer well to another context. The author/publisher of a trade publication, for example, will undoubtedly glean a better understanding of fair use and compliance from a Best Practices document created for librarians and educators, but it would be a mistake for them to apply some specific fair use exceptions for education to their publication of a commercial project.
It’s important to note that most Best Practices do not speak for the whole community they address. There will be disagreements regarding various issues. They are not laws but suggested guidelines, often offering examples of specific situations or specific legal outcomes that may help a publisher make wiser decisions. However, it is always wise to consider the source and the benefits and encumbrances to each side of any argument relating to the Best Practices document under consideration when determining whether and how to apply the practices in specific instances.
How to Make Wise Use of Best Practices. The indie publisher can glean a great deal of information from perusing Best Practices in various areas of publishing. It is helpful to note areas where they have common ground and where reasoning seems to be based on common principles or interpretations of copyright law. And wise use involves consideration of the benefits to their creators as well as encumbrances to their detractors.
Resources. Below are some sites containing Best Practices in various media and genres.
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry
Best Practices in the Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials in Music Scholarship
Best Practices in Reusing Online Content: “5 Simple Rules for Reusing Online Content”
Blogging Best Practices: Photo Use and Attribution
Best Practices Set Forth by a Publisher for Its Authors: University of Iowa Press instructions for authors
Best Practices for User Generated Video Content: The Electric FrontierFoundation
Best Practices Regarding Orphan Works: Society of American Archivists
Reclaiming Fair Use (published by the Univ of Chicago Press)
Want More About Copyright Law?
Order your copy of Copyright Clearance for Creatives for a basic overview of copyright law and essential guidelines on when, how, and where to get permission to use copyright content in your works.