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Copyright: A guide to the essentials

My objective every day is to get the copy I write printed, distributed, quoted and copied as widely as possible. But then, I’m in PR. 

The media does not feel the same way and it can come as a shock to clients when we tell them they are not actually allowed to copy their press coverage. 

Welcome to the world of copyright law! A quick guide:

1) Your content is only yours until it’s printed in a magazine or published online. Once it’s been incorporated into the pages or website of a publication then it belongs to the publisher and you are not allowed to copy it without permission.

2) And yes, that probably applies to opinion pieces bylined to you. We can negotiate with the publication to retain your copyright if you really want us to – but the most likely result is that the publication then simply decides not to use it.

3) This can also apply to websites and online publications.

4) Photographs also do not belong to you. When we commission a photographer we negotiate for usage rights. We need to be clear at the start how you intend to use the images, as this will affect the usage licence and its costs. 

5) You cannot use images found on the internet – even if they appear to be entirely free the copyright belongs to someone and it’s up to the user to find out who that is and negotiate for rights.

What to expect

Our clients are naturally keen to see the result of our PR efforts, so it’s a bit of problem if we can’t show them the coverage that has resulted. 

Fortunately, there are some solutions: this is what you should expect from a PR agency.

1) We use a media monitoring service. This allows us to list all the coverage and to quote the circulation of the medium.

2) As part of this service we will also pay a licence fee that allows us to access the cutting and to keep it for our records.

3) We will also pay for an extended licence so that our clients can see the coverage. The basic licence allows you to see it, but not copy it or distribute it to your colleagues.

4) There is a range of options available in terms of copyright licences. If you would like to produce additional copies or share the content to more people, then the appropriate licence can easily be negotiated, but there will be a cost.

5) You can tweet or share links to online coverage as much as you like (highly recommended).

6) As part of the briefing process to photographers, we will clearly state the usage rights required for each image. If you decide later to use that case study picture in an advertising campaign it is likely to need a new licence.

So when your PR agency tells you that they can’t supply you with a scan of that great piece in The Times, they’re not trying to be difficult – just keeping within the rules.

(But I’m in PR, so if you would like a copy of this blog to share, copy, distribute as widely as you like, let me know: you can have the original).

Anna Hern is managing director of Ridgemount PR

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