Preparing copyright applications for clients can lead to tough questions, such as, “Does this book only contain your original work? Not original work from a third party?”
I always review the complete, submitted work that is the subject of a copyright application for photographs, artwork, quotes, or graphics. My goal is to identify if any were created by a third party and inserted in the client’s original work.
Sometimes I receive telephone calls from copyright examiners in the US Copyright Office asking for clarification on who created the photos or artwork in a work. I will check with the client to make sure their creation does not unintentionally contain someone else’s original work. Clients do not always remember where they obtained all of a piece’s parts, especially for written work that includes artwork and photos.
What If a Client’s Work Does Contain Copyrighted Work from a Third Party?
If a client has inserted the graphics, photographs, or text of a third party, I recommend they contact the person who holds the copyright registration for the original work. They will need to obtain permission to use the photographs, text, or graphics.
If the third-party work is a photograph or artwork that the client obtained through the internet, the client should be able to find the website and determine who owns the copyrights. Legitimate websites will provide copyright information through a link.
If the third-party work is text from an article in another publication, the client may need to conduct some research to discover the publisher or author contact information. She may even have to dig a little deeper to find the literary agent, lawyer, or heirs if the original author is deceased.
Contacting Copyright Owners for Permission
That brings up another question: what is the best way to contact the original author, agent, publisher, or heirs?
I always recommend putting the request in writing. A telephone call is easy, but you will still need to procure permission in writing.
The letter should include the following information:
- Name of person sending letter and asking permission.
- Describe the copyright protected material you plan to use.
- Where and how the copyright protected materials will be employed (i.e., webinar, book, course materials, or on a website)
What to Expect When Dealing with Copyright Owners
Some copyright holders will ask for a small payment to use their work in a publication or presentation. Others just want to be credited for their work. Be prepared – some will withhold permission, and they will simply tell you “no”.
All these responses need to be documented in writing to prevent possible future disputes.
Written responses or licensing agreements need to be kept in a safe place by the client for future reference. If the process becomes confusing or too frustrating, an experienced intellectual property lawyer can be a great advocate throughout the process.