Complying With Your Own Copyright?

Associations regularly create copyrighted matters as a part of their menu of products and services. Oftentimes, however, the authorship is not realized nor does the association comply with the federal law of mandatory deposit.

Copyright compliance by many associations focuses on managing employees not to violate the copyright of another. The fear is that someone will reproduce a copyrighted document and redistribute it beyond the boundaries of the "fair use" doctrine. In such cases the risk of legal proceedings by the author is of concern.

Under prior copyright law, when one wanted to register and protect its copyrighted work, it had to be "first published" to qualify for registration and the right to enforce. Filings with the copyright office of the published work were required. The subsequent use of the copyright symbol was contingent upon approval by the copyright office. Because some associations, as authors, chose not to register (or were not aware of the need to register) their works were not protected.

Under the current copyright laws, a work is copyrighted at the moment of its creation. The use of the copyright symbol can be immediate. However, to enforce their rights, authors still have to register with the copyright office before they may proceed in legal forums against infringers. Mandatory filing of the work is required.

There may be a current perception at some associations that the mere placing of the copyright symbol on the work when created is sufficient protection to defend their rights---WRONG. To ensure the protection of the author's claims the law requires registration and a mandatory deposit of copies of the work. Even if a claim is not being enforced, failure to comply with the mandatory deposit provisions could result in fines of up to $250 per day, per work. "Works" include, among many other things, literary works, audiovisual works, sound recordings, and published computerized information works (such as statistical compendia, serials, and reference works). Automated data bases, another association staple, are included if distributed in the form of machine-readable copies, i.e., magnetic tape or disks, CD-ROM formats, or punch cards. Under certain conditions an additional fine of $2500 may be imposed for violation of the mandatory deposit requirement.

Alert association executives should review their publications and products to determine whether compliance with the federal copyright law is current. Additional information is available by visiting the web page of the Copyright Office located as a part of the home page of the Library of Congress at