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I have a part-time job at a small publishing company located in the United States (California) where I basically upload articles that they have written onto some of their paid subscription websites (user pays for a subscription to read the articles). Recently they have been asking me to copy and paste articles from popular news sites and upload them onto their paid subscription websites without even acknowledging the original site or writer.

The other day I saw an email on the business owner's computer, regarding legal advice for a copyright infringement case involving the business.

So now I'm worried that they are getting sued and, since I'm the one who has actually been uploading these articles, that I might get into some serious legal trouble. For someone in college the last thing I want to be involved in is a lengthy legal case.

What could be the legal implications for myself? Should I just leave the job, or would that make the problem worse?

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Under the doctrine of respondeat superior: If you are an employee then you are afforded protection from personal liability for activities carried out at the direction of your employer.

Even if you are not a formal employee a court considers the nature of your business relationship in determining whether to apply respondeat superior (which means, "let the master answer").

However, violating copyright can get you in trouble even when it is unwitting, and even when you don't profit by it. In your particular situation only a lawyer could determine whether your employment agreement contains adequate personal indemnification against a situation that you rightfully suspect has the potential to get legally perilous.

  • I haven't seen anything so far that respondeat superior actually diminishes the liability of the employee infringer (i.e., that it "afford[s] protection from personal liability"). I can only find explanations that it causes the employer to be liable in addition to whatever personal liability exists for the employee. Is that right, or not? If respondeat superior actually eliminates personal liability when it applies, why is indemnification important? (Is it because indemnification terms can apply more broadly, outside the scope of respondeat superior?) – apsillers Jun 1 '16 at 16:24
  • @apsillers - My understanding (behind which I will not stand ;) is that "vicarious liability" allows a victim to lay claims against the employer, whereas "respondeat superior" requires that the claim be made against the employer. The former would typically occur when an employee commits a tort while "on the job," but not intended by the employer (e.g., crashing a company car while texting). The latter would apply when the employee was following the intentions of the employer (e.g., copying IP without license). – feetwet Jun 1 '16 at 16:30
  • @feetwet: Here's a link for respondeat superior. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respondeat_superior My understanding (or mis-understanding) is that the employer is liable for the employee's actions within the scope of their employment but that does NOT absolve the employee. Vicarious liability refers to employer responsibility for employee actions outside the scope of their employment. – Libra Jul 8 '16 at 2:46

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