Copyright Challenges in Competitive Intelligence

Recently I was involved in a CI project at a large company with a mature CI environment. Part of the company’s CI infrastructure was a collection of news cuttings and a (digital) archive, both openly accessible throughout the company. They also published a daily newsletter to all employees. Copyright challenges were obviously there, but it triggered me to find out all there is to know about copyright. “Can they use this information for their purpose?”, “Should they ask the writers of the articles for permission?”, “What are the rules for copyright when conducting CI?”. In this blogpost I would like to focus on the copyright issues that arise from gathering information for Competitive Intelligence purposes. I will focus on the textual copyright only and my post is based upon the Dutch Copyright legislation (Auteursrecht). Depending on your country the rules may vary. I would like to provide you with some ‘Copyright Intelligence’, so you can go on with your Competitive Intelligence without disobeying legislation.

It is commonly known that a lot of information that can be found on the internet is protected by copyright. You could even say that all information is protected by copyright. Because copyright applies automatically whenever someone writes something he creates by himself, and all information is made up by someone at some time. It is important to note here that copyright only applies when the document or text is ‘original’, which means that it may not be (partly) copied from another text. It may resemble another text, but this resemblance must be a coincidence.

Whenever a text falls under the protection of copyright, it is especially protected (as the name suggests) against unauthorised copies. The creator of the text gets to decide who is allowed to make copies and in what way they can make these copies. For example, when you use articles you found on the internet and distribute them in a collection of news articles in your company without consent of the writers of those articles, the content of the newsletters is clearly unauthorised. The copyrighted text is also protected against unauthorised derivative documents. Documents or texts that are clearly derived from a copyrighted text are a violation to the copyright of the original text. Not all derivative texts are a violation to copyright though. In fact, when you make a summary of an article, and state clearly where you found the article and who wrote it, you are not violating any copyrights. There is other legislation applicable here, namely the ‘Citaatrecht’ (The Netherlands), comparable to the Fair-use doctrine (United States), which both allow the limited use of copyrighted text without the consent of the writers.

Copyright in CI is an important issue in the whole Competitive Intelligence cycle. Copyrights should be taken into account not only in the information gathering phase, but also in the distribution phase. Ideally, you should have permission for every article you use (duplicate in a newsletter or distribute among large user groups) in your CI solution. When you want to do this by yourself it is a huge and time-consuming task. In addition, it isn’t likely you will get permission to duplicate news from your competitor. Luckily, there are news providers. These news providers, such as Lexis Nexis, collect the news for you and take care of the copyrights. But not everyone can afford to use a news provider. It is important to know that any time you use (online) information you must take the copyrights into account. Quotes are for instance allowed, but only in a certain format and with adequate references.

When discussing copyrights in your CI solution it is important to know that you can’t put the blame on your computers, as Brad Templeton nicely explains:

It is important to remember that when it comes to the law, computers never make copies, only human beings make copies. Computers are given commands, not permission. Only people can be given permission.

I hope I’ve shown above that some knowledge about copyright can never harm you, and is certainly a must for a Competitive Intelligence practitioner. It is a waste if your company is sued for violating copyrights so the (financial) benefits from your CI practices are reduced to zero. Even worse, it will most certainly damage your reputation of a trustworthy and responsible company!

A Brief Intro to Copyright by Brad Templeton

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