Copyright infringement claims against health providers is a growing concern.  Unfortunately, many healthcare systems and hospitals neglect to implement a marketing compliance program until something goes terribly wrong.  The result?  Potential liability for copyright infringement.

What is copyright infringement?   Broadly speaking, copyright infringement is the unauthorized appropriation of original materials that are protected under U.S. copyright law.  In the context of healthcare marketing and advertising, the following materials are eligible for copyright protection and may be subject to claims of infringement:

  • Marketing and advertising copy of various digital and print collateral
  • Website copy
  • digital images and photographs
  • digital health software and platforms
  • diagnostic videos
  • medical journals and publications
  • medical illustrations

Examples of copyright infringement.  Many health providers believe that copyright infringement only occurs in the case of using a third-parties photographs or images without permission.  In fact,  there are several instances where a healthcare system may be liable for copyright infringement.  These include:

  • appropriation of copyrighted text that is incorporated into third-party health marketing collateral
  • unauthorized distribution of medical journal articles to several colleagues where a per copy license or subscription was not paid
  • unauthorized multiple uses of software products where only one license or no licenses were purchased or where the license had expired
  • unauthorized downloads or repurposing of health and wellness videos
  • use of patient testimonials without permission
  • use of digital images and photographs without the permission of the owner

Copyright infringement prevention.   Healthcare marketers and providers should be sure to establish a healthcare marketing and compliance program that consists of these important steps:

  • Conduct a health marketing audit.   An inventory of all marketing and advertising collateral that has been created or used by the health provider in the last year should be complied and assessed for compliance with copyright law and other laws related to trademark, advertising, marketing, and promotions, and privacy.
  • Rectify legal compliance errors.   Any health marketing materials compiled as part of the marketing audit process should be reviewed for legal compliance.  Those materials or processes that are non-compliant should be identified for immediate legal remediation on a priority basis.
  • Establish a health marketing compliance program.   Hospitals and health providers who do not already have a compliance program in place can get started with the help of a qualified health marketing and compliance attorney.  Providing education and training to internal marketing personnel and outside marketing agencies on legal compliance pitfalls is the first step in the process.

Recommended next steps:  To discuss implementing a health marketing and compliance program and training in your organization, you may contact the author of this blog.