I recently left the firm I was working with for a few years. I have my own advisory firm now. I took part in several deals that closed. I was an active participant and got paid on those deals. I am mentioned and quoted in press releases for those deals. I wrote the press releases that were for my deals. Additionally, some of them were never even "released" to the press. We would simply use them to send to clients to show past successes.

I have my own website now and I have a Media/News section where I have the press releases posted and/or linked to. The previous employer has contacted me, telling me to "take those down! You cannot use my press releases."

Now, I am pretty sure he is out of his element and has no clue what he is talking about. Is a press release a privileged and/or trademarked document with ownership rights?

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    It is copyrighted, but not sure about privileged or trademarked. It is possible though that if the original company did not give you permission to display it, that you are violating the copyright. – Ron Beyer Jul 30 at 16:45
  • I appreciate the answer. Can I get more details? Are you saying that even if it is hosted online, linking to it from my website is a legal issue? Would seem that the internet would implode if linking to other things posted online need express written permission. Also, is the document copyrighted by default? We never ran them through a lawyer or took any steps of protection. I just wrote them and then we released or emailed to clients. – Sizzle Jul 30 at 16:53
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    Anything you write has an implicit copyright, see When is my work copyrighted?. Copyrights don't need a lawyer or any kind of specific protection steps. You may be OK if you link to it (i.e. the user reads it on the owners site), or if you cite it, but you can't host it/view it on your site. – Ron Beyer Jul 30 at 16:59
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    "I wrote the press releases that were for my deals." Was that work for hire? Did your employment contract say they owned all the work you did? – BlueDogRanch Jul 30 at 17:04
  • @bluedogranch The firm is very small. One sole-prop and 3 employees. They were not even doing press releases. It was my suggestion to do them so I wrote them and dealt with it. – Sizzle Jul 30 at 17:09
up vote 6 down vote accepted

First, the press release is copyrighted from its inception and may have been work for hire (a close call since you wrote them for an LLC and the LLC had a deal with them). There is a copyright in someone, although the absence of a copyright notice limits the remedies available for infringement.

Second, a link is not a copyright violation.

Third, copyright protects an exact manifestation of an idea or description of a fact, not the idea or fact itself.

Fourth, there are two different doctrines that could protect an exact copy of a press release.

One of two doctrines, which applies if the press release has been released to the public, is an implied license. Press releases are meant for the general public and reprinting them when that is their intended purpose is an implied grant of permission. In the same way, if you have an unfenced front yard to a concrete path leading to your front door, anyone who wishes to meet with you has an implied license to walk up to your door and knock. Whether this implied license can be revoked or not is a harder question.

The other of the two doctrines, which is not limited to press releases that have been released, is "fair use". In this situation, when the work was short, has been released to others, has limited literary value, transmits unprotected facts relevant to you, relates facts that may also be a matter of public record (the sale anyway), and you aren't trying to profit from the text of the press releases themselves just from the facts that they convey, the case for fair use is pretty decent even though this is a business use.

Ultimately, however, to be squeaky clean and avoid litigation, you can link rather than regurgitate the press releases, and can write your own statements about the facts in them from scratch.

This information is not privileged or trademarked.

If you didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or if they were released to the public, they aren't subject to trade secret protection either. If they were only released to the customer whose sale was involved and there is an NDA they could conceivably be trade secrets but even then the case would be very weak since the information doesn't create value by virtue of being kept secret.

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    This is a great answer - Can you address the relevance of "Press Releases which were never published" - I would imagine the presumption that its meant for general public and reprinting them would be a lot weaker - however if they are available on an open-access website then they presumably have been published ? – davidgo Aug 1 at 5:39
  • @ohwilleke Thank you for that reasoned and informed answer. I appreciate it. Ultimately, I could and should probably link to the press releases that are available online, or perhaps even better, simply rewrite them using the facts of the deals along with the quotes by me and the quotes about me, from the participants in the deal. This has been very helpful and gives me a much greater understanding of the applicable doctrines along with my rights, as it were. Well done! – Sizzle Aug 1 at 12:01

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