Copyright Basics for ALPA Newsletter Editors
Just enough information to keep you out of trouble

Gavin Francis, Staff Writer
Air Line Pilot,
June/July 2004, p.23

So you’ve taken on the responsibility of producing the newsletter for your master or local executive council. You’ve got a couple issues under your belt, and you’re finally beginning to understand why nobody else wanted the job. What’s worse, you’re fast approaching your press deadline, and you suddenly realize that you don’t have enough content.

After scrambling to find something—anything that will fill the gaping hole in your layout—you decide to republish that great article you saw recently in another publication. "They won’t mind," you rationalize. After all, your newsletter has a relatively small circulation, and the chances are slim that anyone outside of your readership is going to see it anyway.

Think again. The decision to publish an article without securing the permission of the author could be a costly one, fraught with all sorts of headaches.

According to ALPA’s Administrative Manual, newsletter editors will not use copyrighted material without the written permission of the copyright holder. Additionally, the Manual says that the LEC/MEC officer responsible for the publication will obtain permission at no cost to ALPA.

But copyright is not something that only newsletter editors need to worry about. It affects everyone who is involved with the dissemination of published information. Union leaders who regularly oversee many forms of communication, including websites, web boards, and membershipwide e-mail alerts, should vigilantly guard against republishing copyrighted material.

Just what is a copyright, and how can you make sure that you don’t risk copyright infringement? Copyright is a form of protection that U.S. law provides to authors of original works of intellectual property. Author refers to any creator of a work, such as a writer, artist, filmmaker, or web producer.

The Copyright Act of 1976 says that the owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce his or her work, to prepare derivative works, and to perform, display, and distribute the work to the public. Additionally, the copyright owner may assign those rights to someone else.

Copyright protection begins when a work is created in a fixed form. This can mean print, film, video, and sound recordings, as well as the numerous electronic formats that are widely available on the Internet. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim copyright. The term of copyright currently lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years.

If someone else hired the author to create the work, the person or entity that commissioned the work owns the copyright. Works created for hire are protected for a term of 95 years from initial publication, or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

But what about that copyright symbol? Can’t you tell whether a work has been copyrighted just by looking at it? Unfortunately, no, you can’t. An author does not have to display the copyright symbol to receive protection from infringement, nor does the work have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, although these steps often help to prove breach of copyright.

But what if you just want to quote from another’s work? The 1976 Copyright Act also contains a provision that allows limited use of portions of a work by someone other than the copyright owner. The "Fair Use" doctrine is somewhat vague, but essentially it allows you to quote from another’s work as long as quoting is not done excessively.

This can be complicated, but you can easily avoid having to worry about all that if you do one thing: get permission before you reprint an article from another publication.

Obtaining permission to reprint an article is often not very difficult, nor is it necessarily expensive. Just call the publication in which you saw the article, explain that you’d like to use it in your newsletter, and ask how much they would charge you for a one-time reprinting. The fee may vary widely, but some publications may allow you to reprint material without charging a fee, as long as you identify your source.

ALPA officers may freely republish ALPA-originated work printed in official Association publications. Additionally, the web has many sources of uncopyrighted material, as well as syndicated material that you can purchase for a nominal fee. ALPA makes such material available through E-clips, a service offered through the Association’s website.

For more information about U.S. copyright laws, contact the ALPA Legal Department at 202-797-4095 or visit