Legal note:  Copyright compliance programs and training are vital to mitigating your marketing risks.

Understanding copyright basics is an important component of an effective health care marketing strategy.

A proper copyright compliance program will include an understanding of what you can protect, what requires a license, and how to avoid infringement.

1.  What you can protect.    A copyright is a type of intellectual property, which includes patent, trademark, and trade secrets.  Copyright protects original works of authorship that can be fixed in a tangible form.  Copyright protection does not extend to methods, ideas,  or concepts.  It does, however, protect the original expression of such ideas.  It also grants the author the exclusive rights to make copies, reproduce the work, and make derivative versions.

Examples of copyrightable material may include:

  • advertising
  • instructional videos
  • educational resources
  • software
  • website
  • design logos (if sufficiently original)
  • white papers
  • presentations
  • marketing collateral

The Copyright Act does not apply to works prepared by the U.S. government or their agencies.  These works are in the public domain, free to use by anyone.  Copyright law also does not protect words, slogans, or simple geometric shapes or patterns.

2.   What you need to license.   Simply put, all original expressions of creative works  are eligible for copyright protection.  In the health care marketing world, this may include all of the items described in section 1 above.   Therefore, if you are using a third-party’s materials without their permission, then your company may be subject to a claim for copyright infringement.   As such, before using any third-party materials in connection with marketing and promotional efforts, you should be sure to satisfy the following questions:

  • who is the author/owner of the work
  • is the work in the public domain (and thus, free to use)
  • if the work is not in the public domain, do we have permission of the author/owner
  • do we have a system in place to document and obtain the required permission

3.  How to avoid infringement.  There are several scenarios that are common in healthcare marketing that can lead to claims of copyright infringement.  These include when:

  • a software license expires and you continue to use the software past the approved license period;
  • a third-party’s stock photograph or image is used in marketing materials without license or attribution
  • you use a former vendor’s materials for which you paid originally but did not secure your copyright rights to use the materials in any medium or for any purpose in the future

To avoid these types of risk, it is a important to establish a copyright clearance policy that makes sure that you secure all rights in and to those works that you commission on your health system’s behalf, as well as put in place protocols for licensing third-party content.

Conclusion.   The penalties for copyright infringement can negatively impact a health care brand’s reputation and associated goodwill.  Infringement can also expose the brand to liability for attorney’s fees and monetary damages.   This is why formal, employee compliance training should occur on a yearly basis, and that adequate protocols and procedures are in place.

Editor’s note.  To learn more about employee training options, contact us.