COPYRIGHT LAW: FACTS AND FANTASY
by John Betts
Web sites, newsletter, handouts, videos, slide shows. What do they have in common? They
are all subject to copyright protection and must abide by copyright laws.
This article is to clarify the many misconception among mineral clubs, bulletin
editors, AFMS and the EFMLS. Everything in this article has been researched and verified.
Unfortunately, this may hurt how mineral clubs operate. But unless we take the precautions
listed in this article, you are will be guilty of copyright violations. As an author
I have had many instances where my articles have been reprinted without my permission. I
have heard many excuses. They all show a basic misunderstanding of todays copyright
law. Following are the excuses most often given along with the actual rules that apply:
The article does not have a "C in a circle" symbol, therefore it is not
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) "The laws of almost
all countries provide that protection is independent of any formalities, that is,
copyright protection starts as soon as the work is created." You do no need the
symbol or the phrase "All rights reserved" in order to protect an article from
copyright infringement. These devices will discourage many, but they are not required.
The article was less than 250 words, therefore we can use it freely.
An article, column, paragraph or sentence are all equally protected by copyright law
regardless of length.
I credited the original club that published the article, therefore we are legal.
Giving credit is not a substitute for getting permission. You must contact the author in
advance and get permission. For your protection you should get permission in writing or
We got permission from another club editor to use the article, therefore we are legal.
This is the most abused and misunderstood aspect of copyrights. It is sad, but true, that
only the author can grant permission to reprint an article. We will discuss later
various strategies for dealing with this problem in the conclusion of this article. But
the law is clear, bulletin editors can must get the authors permission before using
an article unless the club has received the authors approval to grant permission for
reprinting. (In professional journals they clearly establish copyright ownership in
advance with authors.)
The article won a prize in the EFMLS annual competition, and the EFMLS said we can reprint
it, therefore it is not protected by copyrights.
This is another misunderstanding. Again, only the author can grant permission reprint an
article. If, in the future, the EFMLS includes a permission form for all entries to the
bulletin editors competition to grant permission to reproduce, then other clubs can
freely use the articles. But presently there is no such provision and the authors must be
contacted to get permission.
We are not for profit, therefore copyright laws do not apply.
Copyright laws apply to everyone. Not for profit status does not exempt you from copyright
We can distribute Xerox copies of magazine articles to our members at meetings.
Photocopies, transcriptions, or reprinting are all equally treated under copyright law. It
is illegal to reproduce for any purpose an article without permission except under the
provision of "fair use". Copyright law does allow fair use of copyrighted
material provided only limited copies are made and it is for journalistic, educational or
private use. But fair use is limited to the extent that the value of the original article
is not reduced in any way. This is a very murky area of the copyright law and it is
important that clubs play it safe. If you are going to rely on the fair use rule you
should limit yourself to four or five paragraphs or illustrations and be careful not to
take the text out of context so that the meaning is changed.
We excerpted only a portion of the original article, this is allowed under copyright laws.
This is partially true. Small excerpts can be used, with proper credit to the original
author and publisher, in original literary works without infringing on copyrights. However
Lapidary Journal recently used an excerpt of one of my articles (without permission). The
excerpt amounted to 80% of the column content. That is a copyright infringement. In this
case by excerpting only parts of the article they omitted important safety precautions. As
a rule of thumb, keep you excerpts short, and in small proportion to the original article
content, and provide complete credit to the citation.
The article is over 25 years old, therefore no longer protected by copyrights.
There are several different terms for works published depending on date of publication.
For works created before January 1,1978 the copyright coverage is generally for 75 years
after publication or 100 years after creation if unpublished, whichever is shorter. There
are some subtleties in this law around a 28 year term when first published that is
extended to 75 years automatically. Bulletin editors should use the rule that copyrights
extend 75 years from date of publication.
This article was from another country therefore not protected by copyright law.
Currently all developed countries have signed either the International Union for the
Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Union) or the International Union for the
Protection of Industrial Property (Paris Union). The total count as of April 1, 1998
was 168 countries participating in enforcing reciprocal copyright laws. Country of origin
makes no difference, you must still get the authors permission.
Another club reprinted the article, therefore it is legal for our club to reprint the
Permission granted to reproduce an article is not transferable. Each subsequent club must
contact the author to get permission.
We included the article on our club Internet web site, since we didnt actually
publish anything, we have not violated the copyrights.
This is one of the most common abuses and is a violation of copyrights. Again, you
must get the authors permission to use the article. If the article originated on a web
site, it is proper netiquette (Internet etiquette) to put a description to the article on
your page with a link to the original web site article. As a courtesy you should ask
I got the authors permission to reprint an article that he wrote for a magazine,
therefore it is legal.
This may or may not be true. In general, magazines request authors assign their copyrights
to the magazine. In this case only the magazine (the copyright holder) can grant
permission to use their article. However, knowledgeable authors know that they do not have
to assign copyrights to the magazine, they can simply grant the magazine the right to
publish the article and retain the copyright for themselves. In this case contacting the
author does in fact get legal permission to use the article.
By now you might think the situation looks hopeless. But their are solutions. If
all clubs adopted the following standards then we will continue to have a free flow of new
List the authors address, and email for every article printed in the newsletter.
This will give other bulletin editors the information needed to get legal permission.
Contact the author or magazine before reprinting an article. In my experience no
newspaper, magazine or author has ever refused permission to use an article in a club
newsletter when asked in advance.
Get permission in writing, or at least email. This is essential to protect yourself
from copyright infringement claims in the future, especially from forgetful authors.
Make all authors submitting articles to your newsletter assign your club the copyright.
Then you can place a blanket permission statement on the bulletin cover page allowing use
of article within. Serious authors are likely to balk at this requirement.
Remember that copyright laws apply to things other than newsletters. Web sites,
handouts, videos, etc. are all covered by copyright law. Many infringements have
needlessly occurred on web sites where articles are placed on a web site without
permission. If the article exists on the authors original web site it is very easy
to simply link to the original article. No need to reprint it at all. Otherwise you
must get the authors permission.
If you cannot get permission from the author for whatever reason, you can paraphrase.
Words can be copyrighted but not the ideas. You can rewrite the article in your own words
and not infringe on copyrights. Be very careful to avoid accidentally changing the
original meaning and it is still proper to cite your sources, in fact in the EFMLS annual
competition articles are penalized if they dont cite references.
Use articles or illustrations in the public domain. All U.S.G.S maps and publications
are in the public domain and are not covered by copyrights. Articles from magazines
that have expired copyrights are also in the public domain. (Did you ever wonder why you
see "Its A Wonderful Life" on television 25 times at the holidays? It is
because the copyrights expired and it fell into the public domain.)
For further information on the subject of copyrights you can visit the Library of
Congress United States Copyright Office web site at:
Or visit the World Intellectual Property Organization web site at:
John Betts Fine Minerals
215 West 98 Street, No. 2F
New York, NY 10025
Copyrights of the article(s) are retained by the
author(s). Permission is given by the author for reprinting with attribution to
the author. This information is provided for your reading enjoyment and the AFMS can not
guarantee the accuracy and completeness of the information contained therein. The
opinions expressed are those of the author and may or may not represent those of the AFMS.