Sourcing Newsletter Content On The Internet (1)

Foreword By The Author

This is the first in a series of four articles where the focus is on sourcing newsletter content on the Internet. The full sequence of topics covered in the series is as follows:

  1. Copyright Issues

  2. Help and Guidance Resources
  3. Subject Research
  4. Content Providers

Mike Alexander
For all your content needs go to ClipCopy Content Solutions

Basic Understanding

It is really important that you have at least a basic understanding of copyright law if you intend publishing something, even if it’s a hard copy newsletter for local distribution only. Mainly to help newcomers to this field, I wrote an article entitled ‘The Meaning Of Copyright’ with the intention of providing just this basic degree of knowledge. It covers the subject simply and briefly but in sufficient depth for the needs of most small business people and ‘newbie’ publishers.

However, if there is the slightest chance that your material might eventually be published on the Internet, either statically, such as on a web page, or for distribution by email (or newsgroups etc), you need to understand that laws other than those pertaining to your own country might apply.

The Global Nature Of The Internet

Americans, in particular, tend to overlook, or sometimes seem to be unaware of, the global nature of the Internet. How many times have you read messages like “Have a great 4th July, everyone!” as the big day approaches, or “Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers” in an email-broadcast newsletter or on a website? The writers of these messages have probably never stopped to think how incongruous such messages appear when seen through the eyes of non-Americans. But when you realize how potentially huge the proportion of readers from other countries is, you realize how important the issue of globalization is and how new and unique an environment cyberspace is. Estimates are that 70% of current Internet users live in countries other than the USA. Not only that but the proportions are changing rapidly as the Internet evolves and citizens of less prosperous nations go online. The day is not far off when there will be many more ‘foreigners’ online than Americans and they will be even more of a minority.

International Conventions

It is not possible, nor necessary of course, to be familiar with all the laws of every country on earth! Luckily they are often not that different from each other anyway (as regards copyright, that is). And anyway, there are international conventions that lay down the accepted principles that most counties adhere to.

What then, is the problem, you might ask? Well, for a start, not all countries recognize these principles. The most important landmarks in the field of international copyright tenets are the Berne Convention of 1886 and the Universal Copyright Convention of 1952, both of which are legally recognized by most Western democracies and other major countries. Unfortunately, as with many similar international protocols, there are dissenter nations. Any documents sourced from these ‘rogue’ states, as they are sometimes called, should be viewed with suspicion from the outset since ‘pirating’ (deliberately copying and distributing copyrighted works for financial gain) is often rife, and even sometimes encouraged.

Almost as bad though, is the problem of lip service to the principles by some states, followed by a failure, for one reason or another, to enforce them. These are issues that will undoubtedly become of ever-greater concern with the growing pervasiveness of the Internet.

The Need For Caution

What is important then, is that copyright ownership questions need to be more carefully considered when sourcing material on the Internet, partly because of the potential anonymity of users, partly because of the speed at which illicit material can be copied and distributed, and partly because of its international nature. For these reasons it is probably best to avoid anything that looks suspect if its veracity can’t be confirmed.

The newness of the electronic medium also gives reason for treating it with extra caution. New laws are coming into effect around the world in an attempt to ‘tame’ the apparent lawlessness of the Internet, including cross-border co-operation in some places, and the fact that prosecutions so far have been few does not necessarily mean that things will stay that way.

Making assumptions based on nationally accepted normal practices is also not a good idea. For instance, any material published by the US government for public consumption is usually ‘copyright-free’ (i.e. in the public domain), but that certainly does not mean that the same applies everywhere. Government publications in some countries are subject to a very different regime of regulations indeed.

Copyright Resources

Looking at the positive side of the Internet leads us to consider and appreciate the huge gains that have been made in the dissemination of knowledge and information. For publishers, whether of the electronic or hard copy variety, this includes the ready availability of help and research resources, content material of all sorts, and data related to the protection of intellectual property itself.

To help you explore this subject further, there follows a short list of thumbnail word-sketches, each with a link to its actual URL. They broadly represent what is available on the Internet about copyright at the time of writing.

The Copyright Website

The premiere location on the web for information on copyright.

Copyright and the Web

This site provides links to web resources with information and advice on electronic copyright issues, especially as they apply to British users.

Copyright & Intellectual Property

St Lawrence University’s links to copyright & intellectual property legislation and advocacy resources in the USA.

Online Copyright Resources

The University of Texas site has information about copyright with links to American, British and Australian sites.


A search portal for Intellectual Property resources on the Internet by a firm of Australian and New Zealand Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys. This site provides a truly international perspective with links to sites around the world.

Copyright Resources

Copyright resources from a mainly Canadian perspective.

Copyright & Fair Use

In-depth coverage of the subject, including links to some appropriate newsgroups as well as the WWW, put together by Stanford University Libraries.

UA Library Copyright Resources

This site contains a wide coverage of the topic with some good links to various ‘How-to’ files and other ancillary material.

Links to Copyright Resources

This list of resources includes European as well as American copyright sites.

© 2000 Mike Alexander (Revised 2009), All Rights Reserved


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