Sunday, August 12, 2007

Meeting Recap: Freelance contracts need to address copyright, plagiarism

Editors wanting to avoid copyright and plagiarism legal problems need to focus on the specifics of contracts with freelance writers, said Jean Maneke of The Maneke Law Group in Kansas City. Be aware of electronic archive rights within those contracts, too, she said.

Maneke, who has represented the Missouri Press Association as its hotline attorney since 1991, was the featured speaker in “A Copyright and Plagiarism Primer” presentation given Aug. 8 during a Kansas City chapter of the American Society of Business Publication Editors’ luncheon at McCormick & Schmick’s in Kansas City.

Maneke said editors should ask themselves three questions when dealing with copyright issues:
  • What rights do I have?
  • What rights am I taking away from somebody?
  • What rights am I giving to somebody else?
Publishing companies generally own the copyright rights to stories written by their employees, but freelance writers can own the copyright rights to their own materials. Freelance contracts need to define who has first publications rights and electronic archive rights. Maneke said lately she has seen a lot of litigation involving electronic archive rights.

Another issue might pop up if a third party, perhaps another publishing company, asks the editor for permission to use the freelancer’s story. Does the freelance contract give the editor the right to allow such permission?

“Those are the kinds of things you need to think about when dealing with copyright,” Ms. Maneke said.

Plagiarism can occur among both writers employed by the publishing company and freelance writers. Every freelance contract should say plagiarism will not be tolerated, Maneke said, but that step still will not keep publishing companies out of trouble. They still will be liable even if the freelance writer plagiarized a story without the company’s knowledge.

The publishing company can turn around and sue a freelance writer if the publishing company is sued for plagiarism, but that tactic may meet with little success. If a publishing company faces a $1 million fine, it can sue the freelance writer, but a good chance exists the freelance writer will be unable to pay a $1 million fine, she said.

It may be impossible for editors to catch plagiarism before publication, Maneke said. No one has time to use Google on the Internet to research whether stories were plagiarized.

Editors should know what constitutes plagiarism. Publishing companies legitimately may use material from another source provided the material is presented as news or education and the other source receives attribution, she said. Just don’t use the entire story. Logos and photographs can be used as long as they are part of news material.

She added paraphrasing a statement does not avoid plagiarism and words lifted in their entirety must have quote marks. Use of facts is not plagiarism, but if the facts contain the original author’s interpretation, they must have attribution.

Advertising is different. Problems may arise in certain situations, such as when you use a photograph or a song for an advertisement, or where you are making money off the photo or song.

Maneke added editors need to know the difference between copyright and trademark.

“Everybody confuses copyright and trademark,” she said.

Copyright is the expression of an idea in tangible form. A trademark represents a product or service.

Copyright rights exist for anything that is put down on paper. You do not have to register to have copyright rights, but you must register if you want to file suit. The Library of Congress has copyright forms that you may fill out online.