Copyright Compliance: Compliance Policy

Policy Preparation

Checklist for creating a Copyright Policy

Academic Copyright Policy - Sample

Tips for a Successful Rollout and Implementation

Policy Preparation

Appointing a Copyright Officer
Many large academic institutions now have a copyright officer or agent, and/or copyright department. If your institution does not, you might consider creating such a position and/or department as it will help you to be more efficient in your information gathering process and in administering your copyright-related procedures and policies.

At a minimum, you should designate a copyright officer and have that person register with the U.S. Library of Congress as your institution's agent under the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This individual will serve as the institution's official recipient for reports of infringement and implementer of "take down notices" for electronic content in the event that your institution should receive such a notice.

The copyright officer is not necessarily a lawyer and his/her role need not include providing legal advice. In addition to serving as your registered copyright agent, this person can also gather information about your institution's copyright needs and use, develop and maintain your copyright policy, and serve as the ongoing manager of copyright information and coordinator of copyright permissions in your organization. Because intellectual property issues such as patents and trademarks are often important issues in academic institutions, many institutions have an intellectual property office under which copyright falls.

The copyright officer should be in contact with all the people involved with copyright issues in your institution and solicit their input when creating your copyright policy. These individuals may include people who obtain copyright permission, provide permission to others, negotiate license agreements, and register copyright-protected works owned by your institution.

Information Gathering
In developing your copyright policy, you should gather as much information as you can about copyright in your institution.

Key points to investigate include:

  • What copyright-protected materials are used in your institution?
  • How are these materials used?
  • How frequently are these materials used?
  • How is fair use applied in your institution?
  • Who typically owns the copyrights to the materials being used?
  • What permission procedures are currently in place?
  • Who is in charge of obtaining copyright permission?
  • How do you keep track of the permission once obtained?
  • Do you have an account with Copyright Clearance Center?
  • Do you have any licenses for the ongoing use of digital publications or digital databases? If so, how are they managed?
  • What are the procedures for off- or online copyright infringement?

Access to a Copyright Lawyer
Since the copyright officer is generally not an attorney who specializes in copyright law, he or she should have a rapport with your institution's legal counsel. If this is not possible, ask your counsel to recommend a copyright lawyer outside of your institution. Either way, make the most of your consultations with a copyright lawyer. One efficient way to do this is to compile your copyright questions and consult with your copyright lawyer for a few hours at the end of each month. Keep track of your discussions and the practical responses from your copyright lawyer. Incorporate your lawyer's advice into your copyright policy so it becomes part of your day-to-day copyright procedures. Be sure to notify faculty, staff members and other employees when significant changes occur, perhaps via e-mail or your intranet. You may find over time that you have fewer questions for your copyright lawyer as your copyright procedures and policies become more streamlined and established.

Understanding Copyright
Copyright law is complex. There are many different sources and ways to learn about copyright; explore as many of them as possible. Once you have a basic understanding of U.S. copyright principles, familiarize yourself with the copyright laws of other countries, and how copyright law applies to digital media. Then, learn what you can about obtaining copyright permission, about copyright intermediaries such as Copyright Clearance Center, and about copyright licenses. Always keep in mind that there is a lot to learn and it may take a while to feel comfortable about copyright law.

It is also very important to encourage others in your institution to understand the importance of copyright law. Circulate information about new publications, new cases or amended copyright law. Tell others about online and in-person copyright seminars. Create a reference shelf of print materials on copyright law. Maintain a list of Web sites and online discussion groups on copyright. Many general news Web sites such as CNN ( cover copyright issues. Another helpful site is the legal Web site Findlaw (

Update both your print shelf and your Web lists as new copyright information becomes available. However, make sure the information is germane to your institution before including it your collection.

Maintaining Records
Once you have obtained copyright permissions in situations where they are required, you need to develop an organized method of retaining and tracking those permissions. Your copyright officer should have a copy of each permission and a system for retaining these records. Each permission should be kept at least as long as the permission period and for several years afterward, in an easily accessible and referenceable format. An electronic database of permissions that is searchable by title, name of author and name of publisher may be a convenient way of storing copyright permission.

A Living Document
A copyright policy is a living document. Within the policy itself, you may want to provide for periodic review and updates. How often will it be reviewed? Who will be part of the group responsible for reviewing it? How will amendments be made to the policy? Who will finalize the revised policy? How often and in what way will faculty, staff and students be asked to review the policy and renew their commitment to copyright compliance? Will faculty, staff and students be required to participate in copyright training?

Your Policy as a Stand-Alone Document
In reviewing various institutional copyright policies you will see that they take a variety of forms. Some address all the copyright issues an institution may have, from the DMCA to electronic reserves. Other institutions have individual policies for specific copyright issues such as the TEACH Act, photocopying, and other library-related copyright issues. And some institutions incorporate copyright issues into larger institutional policy documents such as those covering all intellectual property issues. Each institution operates differently and you must determine which approach will best suit the needs of your institution.

The sample policy included in this document specifically addresses the use of text-based copyright-protected materials used in the classroom and library. Such a policy is a good starting point for many institutions and it may complement other existing copyright and general intellectual property policies.

It's time now to put that copyright policy in writing. If this is your first policy, this may seem like a daunting task. Begin where you are most comfortable. Pick an area and work on it. Consult the checklist and sample policy included here, as well as the many policies available on the Web. Determine what sections from these policies apply to your institution and where you must amend them for your needs.

Your copyright policy may be one of the most useful documents for your colleagues to consult, so write it in plain English and in clear, concise and comprehensive language. And keep in mind: policies are not born overnight. Try to develop yours one step at a time.