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Giving Credit Where Credit is Due - Copyright Rules and Intellectual Property

Have you ever wondered whether it was okay to include a portion of someone else's work on your website, in your training curriculum, in a community presentation, or in a publication? Have you had concerns about protecting work that your organization has developed? These are important issues, and a little basic knowledge about intellectual property rights will be helpful to any manager in the nonprofit field. As a manager, you will want to ensure that you inform others about policies and laws regarding intellectual property.

According to Wikipedia, "intellectual property refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognized in law." This property may include (but is not limited to) written materials, images, or video. Some of the key questions are:

  • Who owns the rights to the work?
  • Under what circumstances can the work be reproduced or used by others?

With regard to materials that are developed by or for your agency, you will want to know who owns the rights. "Works for hire" are created by employees during the course of their employment, and belong to the employer. If you want to protect your legal rights regarding written materials, you should investigate obtaining a copyright. When you hire consultants, be sure to specify who owns the rights to their work products before the work is done.

As far as using other people's work, it is important to get permission and to give proper attribution. For example, it is not okay to use pictures plucked from the internet in your presentations, or to insert materials from someone else's workbook in your advocate training manual, unless you have either obtained permission from the creator or determined that sharing is permissible, such as under a Creative Commonspermission or a government document that contains a statement authorizing reproduction. If you use someone else's words, make it very clear that it is a quote and provide the citation.


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Reviewed: June 2nd, 2015