An Admin’s Guide to Avoiding Copyright Infringement

Oct 17, 2013 | Procedures

Have you ever borrowed a photo or image from the internet without citing where you got it? Ever used a statistic in a meeting presentation without the proper attribution?

If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, there’s a good chance you’ve committed copyright infringement.

Unless you’ve been extremely aware of it, chances are at some point in your administrative career you’ve committed copyright infringement. With a wealth of information readily available online, committing this crime – even if it’s inadvertent – is extremely easy. And yes, it is a crime.

What is Copyright Infringement?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright infringement is the act of violating any of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights under the federal Copyright Act. To be considered copyright infringement, the material must have a valid copyright, the person who is infringing must have access to the work, and the duplication of the copyrighted material must be outside the exceptions to the Act. 

The Consequences of Copyright Infringement
The legal penalties for copyright infringement can include fines from $200 to $150,000, impounding of anything containing unlawfully used materials, and even jail time. While these repercussions are unlikely for an admin who copies and pastes a copyrighted photo into a company newsletter, it’s still important to avoid copyright infringement. Unlawfully using copyrighted material can have a serious effects on your career, executive, and company, including:

  • Decreased credibility and trust from your executive, team, and employer.
  • Legal trouble for you and/or your employer.
  • Financial penalties in the form of demotion or legal fees.
  • Loss of job.

Avoiding Copyright Infringement
You may worry that giving someone credit will diminish your authority on a subject, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Giving credit where credit is due can strengthen your credibility because it shows that you took the time to research and source material from an expert source. There are also alternatives to using copyrighted materials that allow you to avoid the infringement debacle all together, such as:

  • Taking your own photos. That smartphone in your purse or pocket likely has a camera. If you need an image and it’s something readily available at your home or office, snap and use your own! It will help you avoid copyright infringement and sharpen you photography skills at the same time. Just make sure to avoid taking pictures of brands and logos as they’re usually copyrighted.
  • Use free image sites. There are plenty of online resources offering stock photography, graphics, and clip art that you can use free of charge and copyright infringement, such as Openphoto, Stock.XCHING, and Stockvault.
  • Conduct your own poll or research. If you need to gather facts or figures on a particular subject, there are several free polling tools, such as SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo, that can help you get the data you need.

As an admin, you’re responsible for generating a lot of company materials – whether it’s a newsletter, social media or blog post, or presentation – so you need to constantly be aware of copyright laws and how to avoid infringement situations. If you’re unsure whether something is copyrighted, just don’t use it! Copyright infringement is a serious offense, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

© 2013 Julie Perrine International, LLC


Want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or website? You can — just as long as you include this complete blurb with it:

Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at

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