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Where would your enterprise be without published information? Whether you’re researching advances in eco-friendly materials and prefabrication techniques, checking for news on industry regulations, or gathering intelligence on potential clients, sharing published information is essential to your efforts to innovate and expand.

However, much of the content used and shared at architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) companies is copyright-protected. In fact, the 2013 Information Consumption and Use Study conducted by research and advisory firm Outsell, Inc., revealed that 38 percent of the content shared within this sector comes from outside sources.

While content-sharing is up, copyright awareness is not. Outsell’s research found that 66 percent of professionals in the engineering and construction sector surveyed are either unaware if their organization has a copyright policy or they know their organization has a policy but don’t know the details of it.

Aside from this general lack of awareness, following are five common misconceptions about the use of copyrighted content within the AEC industry.

· Copyright compliance isn’t that big a deal — According to Outsell’s study, the vast majority (78 percent) of surveyed engineering and construction professionals believe that protecting their organization’s intellectual property (IP) is critical or very important. But respect for IP is a two-way street. The same respect for third-party IP rights is also critical. Copyright infringement damages can hurt your organization’s bottom line and its reputation.

· Articles available online are in the public domain and are free for the taking — Online availability of articles does not mean copyright holders have given up their rights to their works. It also doesn’t mean these works are in the public domain. Under U.S. copyright law, the term “public domain” refers to works that are no longer covered by copyright, either because the copyrights have expired or because the works were written by the federal government. Content that is publicly accessible is not necessarily in the public domain. It’s likely to be copyright-protected, which means you need appropriate permission to copy and share it.

· There really isn’t that much sharing going on at our organization — Sharing is pervasive in the AEC workplace. Engineers, architects, and project managers are heavy consumers of published information. Whether sharing ASTM Standards or articles from ACI Materials Journal or Structural Control and Health Monitoring, access to published materials is essential. But it doesn’t stop there. Plenty of content sharing happens throughout your organization, from human resources and account management to public relations and marketing.

According to the Outsell study, professionals in engineering and construction reported sharing content an average of four times per week, with an average of nearly seven people each time.

· Once our company has paid for an article, we’re free to share it — When you purchase an article, you’re buying one individual copy. Unless your license authorizes the creation or distribution of additional copies, you probably need additional permission to share that article with others, whether inside or outside your firm.

· The subscriptions that our company purchases allow us to use material freely — Not all institutional subscriptions are created equally. Although some include attendant rights, such as the right to save, store, print, and copy content, others include only some of those rights. It’s not always safe to assume that every activity is covered under the scope of your subscription.

There you have it — despite the risks, organizations increasingly misconceive the application and relevance of copyright on a regular basis. As engineering firms and construction companies continue to consume and share increasing amounts of content and research, copyright compliance emerges as a critical business requirement.

Miles McNamee is vice president, Licensing and Business Development, at Copyright Clearance Center. He can be reached at mmcnamee@copyright.com or 978-646-2459.

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