Monday, November 9, 2009

From the Legal Hotline

Q: A local radio station has been reading our newspaper on air as its morning newscast. What can we do about this?

A: Original newspaper content is protected by copyright and the newspaper has the right to pursue an infringement action if the radio station uses its content improperly without permission.

Copyright ownership is generally vested in the author of a creative work. However, if an employee authors a work eligible for copyright and the work is in the scope of his or her employment, his employer (the newspaper) owns the copyright of that work. Copyright ownership can also be transferred from a freelancer to a newspaper through a “work made for hire” agreement.

Copyright law grants the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce the work in copies; prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; distribute the work to the public; and display the work publicly.

If you believe that someone is improperly using your content, you should inform them in writing and instruct them to stop. This type of notice is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. A cease and desist letter can be sent by you or your newspaper’s lawyer. PNA encourages newspapers to consult an attorney before sending a cease and desist letter.

There are several defenses to copyright infringement, including use of a copyrighted work for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. If appropriate, these uses may be considered “fair use.” Whether a particular use is a “fair use,” depends upon a number of factors, including how much of the material is used and whether that use affects the value of the original work.

Newspapers should also be aware that some radio stations subscribe to the Associated Press. To the extent that a radio station is properly using news provided by the Associated Press, copyright infringement would not be an issue.

You can learn more about copyright in the PNA Newspaper Handbook, as well as from the U.S. Copyright Office at

As always, this is not intended to be nor should it be construed as legal advice. If you suspect copyright infringement, please contact your private attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080.

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