understanding copyright rules helps employees and companies avoid legal risks

Copyright Rules In The Workplace: 10 Basics For Employees

who this class is for

Employees and managers

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About this micro-class

Using external content that is not properly licensed or violating the copyrights of third-party materials can expose both employees and their employers to significant legal risks.

Copyright Risks When Using Third-Party Material

1. Unauthorized Use of Third-Party Content:

unauthorized use of third party content

If employees incorporate images, text, music, or other creative works without obtaining the necessary permissions or licenses, it can lead to copyright infringement claims.

2. Plagiarism

employees should avoid plagiarism in their work

Employees may unknowingly or intentionally use content created by others without proper attribution, leading to accusations of plagiarism.

3. Open Source License Violations

If employees use open source software or other materials, they must adhere to the terms of the respective licenses. Failure to comply with these licenses can result in legal consequences.

4. Failure to Attribute:

Even when using content under a license, employees must adhere to the terms, which may include proper attribution. Failure to provide the required attribution can lead to issues.

5. Misunderstanding Fair Use


Employees may incorrectly assume that their use of copyrighted material falls under the fair use doctrine. Misinterpretation of fair use can result in legal challenges.

Copyright Rules For Employees' Material

6. Understanding Contractual Agreements

Both employees and employers to be aware of applicable laws, company policies, and contractual agreements to avoid conflicts related to copyright issues in the workplace. 

Copyright rules can vary depending on jurisdiction and the specific employment agreements in place. Consulting legal professionals for advice tailored to specific situations is recommended.

7. Work-for-Hire Agreements

In many jurisdictions, work created by employees within the scope of their employment is often considered “work for hire.” This means the employer owns the copyright to the work.

8. Intellectual Property Policies and Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

Employers may have intellectual property (IP) policies that explicitly outline ownership and use of work-related creations. Employees should be familiar with these policies.

Some companies may require employees to sign NDAs, which can include provisions regarding the protection of the company’s intellectual property.

9. Use of Company Resources

devices and company tech equipment and resources

Work created using company resources, such as computers, software, and other tools, may be subject to company ownership.

10. Written Agreements

Any deviations from the standard rules should be clearly outlined in written agreements between the employer and employee.

Best Practices to Mitigate Copyright Risks

Use Licensed Content


Employees must use content only from reputable sources and obtain proper licenses for any external materials they incorporate into their work.

Understanding Employment Agreements and Company Policies

Carefully review the employment contracts to understand how intellectual property rights are handled.

Be aware of and comply with the company’s policies regarding the use of external content and intellectual property.

Separate Personal and Professional Work

Differentiate personal projects from work-related projects to avoid potential conflicts over ownership.

Seek Advice and Permission

advice and permission

Seek advice from your manager or company’s legal office on copyright laws, fair use, and the importance of respecting intellectual property rights.

If an employee wants to use work-related creations for personal projects, they should seek permission from the employer.

Keep Records

Maintain records of licenses, permissions, and attributions for external content used in the company’s work.

Regularly Update Licenses

Stay informed about the licenses associated with external content, especially open-source software, and update as necessary to comply with the latest terms.

Copyright Worst Mistakes

Ignoring Licensing Terms

Using external content without understanding or adhering to the licensing terms can lead to legal repercussions.

Assuming Fair Use

Incorrectly assuming that the use of copyrighted material qualifies as fair use without a proper legal analysis.

Neglecting Attribution

Failing to provide proper attribution for external content, even if it is allowed under a license, can result in accusations of copyright infringement.

Incomplete Due Diligence

Not conducting thorough due diligence on the copyright status of external content before incorporating it into work.

Underestimating Legal Consequences

Underestimating the potential legal consequences of copyright infringement, which can include financial penalties and damage to the company’s reputation.

Ignoring Licensing Terms

Employees assuming they automatically own the rights to work created during employment without checking their employment agreement.

Ignoring Company Policies

Ignoring or violating company policies related to intellectual property can lead to legal consequences.

Using Company Resources Inappropriately

devices and company tech equipment and resources

Using company resources for personal projects without proper authorization may lead to ownership disputes.

Failing to Communicate

Lack of communication between employees and employers about potential copyright issues can result in misunderstandings and disputes.

No Written Agreements

Failing to document any agreements or deviations from standard copyright rules in writing can lead to ambiguity and legal challenges.

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