Copyright Do’s and Don't’s for Nurses and Educators

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by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

When creating nursing content, it's important to know copyright laws so you can avoid copyright infringement.

How familiar are you with copyright laws?

Copyright Do’s and Don't’s for Nurses and Educators

I always say, You need to know the rules before you decide to break them... or not!

As a certified Nursing Professional Development Specialist and a writer, I had to learn about copyright rules. I'd like to share what I learned.

Amanda is an educator and is preparing a PowerPoint presentation.  She needs an image of a hospital so she goes to Google Images and types in “hospital”. She pulls up hundreds of images, picks one, right-clicks, copies, and drops it into her PowerPoint.

She misses the link that says “image may be subject to copyright”. If she had clicked on the link, she most likely would have learned that the image is copyright-protected.

Brad, a clinical instructor, finds a good article on trach care in the AJN journal he subscribes to. He makes 15 copies of the article and distributes them to his students. Is this OK? It depends.

He must check his journal for their wording on copyright.

  • Here’s CriticalCareNurse Journal’s wording: No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage retrieval system without permission of AACN
  • Another journal specifies, “Nursing faculty may photocopy up to 100 copies for educational purposes”, which is really nice, but not common. 

A group of nursing students makes a cute video choreographed to a popular song. If you create a movie and add a soundtrack, that music is likely subject to copyright. That is why some YouTubers who stream music in the background of their videos have had to take them down. It’s also why there is so much bad music as background on, say, makeup tutorials (YouTubers have to find copyright-free music).

Attribution

Myth: If you give credit or attribution (name the creator or author), you can use the image. Not true.

Attribution is giving credit to the creator, author or photographer. 

Attribution is nice, but it is not permission to reproduce.

If I take a picture and upload it to the internet, I am not giving permission for it to be reproduced and used by others in any way they see fit. As the artist and creator of the photography, I hold the copyright for my lifetime plus 70 years.  

Public Domain

Creative materials not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, or trademark, are said to be in the public domain. Being in the public domain means they are owned by the public and not by any single individual. 

For example, works of the government belong to the American public and can be reproduced under public domain. As an educator, I can search for graphs, photos, and so on the CDC website. However, even some images on government sites are protected by copyright. Look for the words. In that case, the government had to get permission, and you do, too.

I found some great photos of tubing misconnections on the FDA website and did not have to ask for permission!

Asking Permission

To use someone else's song, image or footage, contact the creator and ask for permission to reproduce. I have done this many times. I make it personal and tell them it’s for staff development to educate nurses and often get a good response. 

They may say Yes, or Yes, with attribution, or Yes if for a small class but not for large distribution, or Yes, but do not modify. They also may say No, but I haven't had that happen.

Get the permission in writing and keep it in your records.

What You Can Do

  • Use works from creativecommons.org.
  • Give your students the link to an internet page if possible, say the trach care article, but do not distribute the article yourself. 
  • Get a subscription to Getty images (expensive) or Stock Photos. Just Google image subscription and find a plan that works for you.
  • When using Word or PowerPoint, use their links to images. Microsoft owns stock images and links to them in Word and PowerPoint (you can use them). 
  • Take your own pictures.

Low Risk

People laugh and say to me, “Well, seriously, I’m not going to get in trouble for stealing an image from Google.”

True, it is low risk, but as an educator and nurse, you are acting on behalf of the facility, not yourself. The facility is at risk since your creations are the intellectual property of your organization.

If you are an educator, one of your core roles is being a role model, and well, it's just professional.

Best,

Nurse Beth

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development and am a blogger and author.

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12 Comment(s)

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,006 Posts

Yes, this article is all true regarding copyright and such, but mentions no specific ramifications of breaching a piece of copyrighted work.

I once spoke to a lawyer/friend about someone who had used my copyrighted artwork without my permission and asked her what I could do about it- could I sue them?

 She came back with two questions" "How much is the artwork worth and how much did the person using your copyrighted work make off of your work".

 My artwork was probably worth maybe a few hundred dollars and I didn't know how much was made, probably little to nothing. "Then that's how much monetary reimbursement we can sue them for", she replied, "which will be a LOT less than the suit will cost you".

Okay, that was cool with me. I was just making conversation and was more curious than anything else. Besides, unless an artist is, like, really successful and married to the work, there will be no ramifications for breaching a copyright.

I did a quick search and the information that I found basically supported my perspective, in that, and with all due respect Nurse Beth, this area of concern is just another Boogey Man.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,653 Posts

Davey Doo I'm sorry your artwork was stolen. Maybe it was inadvertent.

I hope by reading my article, a few more people understand the right thing to do.

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,006 Posts

Thank you for the empathy, Nurse Beth, however, once my art is done and put out in the cosmos, it no longer belongs to me.

I'm having difficulty with "the right thing to do". A crime is committed only when identified as such, like the sound a falling tree in the forest makes if no one hears it.

 I reiterate:

On 7/22/2022 at 10:05 AM, Davey Do said:

Yes, this article is all true regarding copyright and such, but mentions no specific ramifications of breaching a piece of copyrighted work...

...with all due respect Nurse Beth, this area of concern is just another Boogey Man.

 

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,653 Posts

On 7/22/2022 at 11:50 AM, Davey Do said:

Thank you for the empathy, Nurse Beth, however, once my art is done and put out in the cosmos, it no longer belongs to me.

I'm having difficulty with "the right thing to do". A crime is committed only when identified as such, like the sound a falling tree in the forest makes if no one hears it.

 I reiterate:

Thanks for your point of view, Davey! I hope maybe some find it useful, especially nurses creating content as professional educators.

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,006 Posts

A premise is presented in an article warning nurses and educators should "know the rules before you decide to break them or not".

Examples are given where two professionals allegedly broke the rules, yet no repercussions are cited.

Therefore, there were no repercussions.

If there were no repercussions, there is nothing to be concerned about, therefore this article, again with all due respect, is sensationally superfluous.

 

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,006 Posts

Interesting: The article, at this time, is listed as being posted 7 hours ago, yet has reactions from 2 to 3 days ago.

allnurses Admin Team

Has 50 years experience. 284 Posts

43 minutes ago, Davey Do said:

Interesting: The article, at this time, is listed as being posted 7 hours ago, yet has reactions from 2 to 3 days ago.

@Davey Do, Admins review and publish all Articles. Admins also give "reactions" and most occur before the Article goes live. That is why you see pre-published reactions.

Joe V

Specializes in Programming / Strategist for allnurses. Has 26 years experience. 10 Articles; 2,287 Posts

Examples

Someone writes a movie script ... it's shared with many directors, producers, writers, etc ... no one bites (script is worthless?) Years later, a movie is out with the same story, characters, etc - making millions. Someone stole your script! This movie script is no longer worthless. Wouldn't you sue?

What if someone took 10 of your toons without your consent and published a book that sells thousands of copies. Will you still think your art is worthless? A logo, image, or toon may be worthless today but go up in price in the future.  eg. goes viral, sold, becomes a symbol, etc ... 

A writer can lose money because they used copyright images for an article posted on XYZ website. The article went viral, XYZ website got sued (received letter), writer no longer gets contracted job from XYZ website. XYZ website had to pay thousands of dollars from sales/banner earnings.

On a personal note:

When I created my first site (30+ years ago) I used photos from the "internet". A year or 2 after going live, I got a 'lawsuit letter'. They wanted $5,000 for using an image. I panicked.

Ultimately, I removed all images, found on Google, from the site. From that day on, I use only purchased images on anything I do. 

If you run a website, business, sell products, services, etc the last thing you want is to deal with a "lawsuit letter". 

Images can be purchased for less than a dollar.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,653 Posts

3 hours ago, Joe V said:

Examples

Someone writes a movie script ... it's shared with many directors, producers, writers, etc ... no one bites (script is worthless?) Years later, a movie is out with the same story, characters, etc - making millions. Someone stole your script! This movie script is no longer worthless. Wouldn't you sue?

What if someone took 10 of your toons without your consent and published a book that sells thousands of copies. Will you still think your art is worthless? A logo, image, or toon may be worthless today but go up in price in the future.  eg. goes viral, sold, becomes a symbol, etc ... 

A writer can lose money because they used copyright images for an article posted on XYZ website. The article went viral, XYZ website got sued (received letter), writer no longer gets contracted job from XYZ website. XYZ website had to pay thousands of dollars from sales/banner earnings.

On a personal note:

When I created my first site (30+ years ago) I used photos from the "internet". A year or 2 after going live, I got a 'lawsuit letter'. They wanted $5,000 for using an image. I panicked.

Ultimately, I removed all images, found on Google, from the site. From that day on, I use only purchased images on anything I do. 

If you run a website, business, sell products, services, etc the last thing you want is to deal with a "lawsuit letter". 

Images can be purchased for less than a dollar.

Exactly! It's important for nurses creating content to know this bc they can put their facility at risk. It's one thing to "break the rules" on your own accord, but not as a professional in the workplace.

I've seen nurses copy entire graphs and images from journals into powerpoints without gaining permission. Just a good to know 🙂

Rmooney

Rmooney

Specializes in Nurse Educator. Has 14 years experience. 2 Articles; 9 Posts

Wow, I never thought about all the things you mentioned! Great article!

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,653 Posts

4 hours ago, Rmooney said:

Wow, I never thought about all the things you mentioned! Great article!

Thank you kindly!