Workshop: Attorneys Provide Overview of Copyright and Digital Media

By Bob Sprague | Oct. 12, 2018

L to R: Jeffrey Hermes, Media Law Resource Center, and Samuel Fifer, Dentons US LLP, discuss a famous image from the 2017 Oscars broadcast. — doug hardy / lion publishers

"Don't listen to what we say," Fifer joked, indicating the pair were not giving legal advice. Even so, the audience of 17 journalists listened. Here are some snapshots of what they heard:

-- Want to grab a shot from Google images? Resist the temptation.

-- Is embedding a tweeted photo OK? I depends, but doing so may incur less risk that a right-click photo grab.

-- How far back does the U.S. view of copyright stretch? America's Founders situated in the Constitution a charge to Congress aimed at protecting invention.

-- Copyright law is wholly rule-based, and not intuitive for journalists, they said in reviewing Section 106 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

-- What is copyrightable? It must be "an original work of authorship in a tangible medium of expression." Hermes showed an image of an ice sculpture by Ai Weiwei photographed by one Frankie Fouganthin in Stockholm. See it here. But this work is not fixed -- it melts -- thus, no copyright. On the other hand, the photo itself was composed, is fixed and can be copyrighted.

-- The concept of “fair use” seems unfair in its complexity. It involves balancing four factors. To illustrate, the speakers displayed a dramatic photo published by The Record, in New Jersey, illustrating flags and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. An intern for another publication had borrowed the image for a Facebook post, leading to a lawsuit charging unfair use.

-- You work hard to craft a story, but a competing publication steals it. What can you do? Not much beyond complaining to the thief. The speakers said that "sucks," yet it is "tough."

-- To register a copyright, click here You don't need an attorney.

-- Two tips you can take home with you: Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain, and all words and images created by the federal government are available for use.

"The only way to get through this presentation is not to name all of the exceptions," Fifer said.

Check out more entries in our 2018 conference blog »