1008.3 (C) The Authorization Requirement
A critical element of publication is that the distribution of copies or phonorecords to the public must be authorized by the copyright owner. To be considered published, the copyright owner must expressly or impliedly authorize users to make retainable copies or phonorecords of the work, whether by downloading, printing, or by other means.
A distribution or offer to distribute that has not been authorized by the copyright owner does not constitute publication. Thus, the mere fact that a work is disclosed on the internet does not “publish” the work. The end user’s technical capacity to copy, capture, save, or otherwise reproduce a work in and of itself does not imply that the copyright owner authorized the distribution or publication of that work, unless there is an express or implied-in-fact authorization that supports such an inference. Likewise, the fact that it may be possible for an end user to reproduce or distribute a work that has been authorized only for public display or public performance online does not mean that publication has occurred.
An unauthorized reproduction or distribution online may constitute copyright infringement or may be a fair use in certain circumstances, even if there are no technological protection measures preventing the use of that work. While a fair use may be lawful, it is not considered an authorized reproduction or distribution that publishes the copyright owner’s work. Similarly, an infringing reproduction or distribution does not constitute publication, even if the unauthorized copies or phonorecords are dispersed among large number of people.
2 The term “copies” is used interchangeably in this Chapter to refer to both “copies” and “phonorecords,” which are defined in Section 101 of the Copyright Act.
While it is often a simple matter to determine whether a distribution of tangible copies was authorized by the copyright owner, it is not always factually clear whether the placement of works online is intended to be an authorized distribution of those works or merely an authorized public performance or public display.
The answer to this question may vary for different types of works or vary based on the way in which works are placed online. For instance, posting a sound recording online for authorized downloading by the public may well provide evidence of publication, whereas making a sound recording available for streaming may not constitute publication if the user does not receive a copy of the work. Similarly, posting an article on a news website that authorizes users to download articles or email them to a friend may support a finding of publication for that particular article, whereas posting the entire news website online would not constitute publication because the website as a whole is intended only for public display. Indeed, there would appear to be little basis for inferring that a copyright owner authorized a user to copy and/or distribute an entire website absent some indication to the contrary.
Because publication is premised on authorized distribution, it is ultimately for the author or the copyright owner to determine whether a work is authorized for distribution or is limited to public performance or public display. This choice may be express (e.g., an express statement that the works on a website may be downloaded or that they are available only for online display) or implied in fact (e.g., a website that provides a download option).
Authors and copyright owners who wish to clarify the publication status of their works should provide express information about what they are, or are not, authorizing others to do with their works. For instance, explicitly authorizing downloading or reproduction of all the content on a website would indicate that the works posted on that site have been published. Implicitly authorizing downloading or transmission of copies of works by offering copies for sale, free downloading, or transmission to others via email also may suggest that works subject to that implicit authorization have been published. By contrast, clearly stating that the content on a particular is available only for public display or public performance with an express prohibition on the reproduction, distribution, or transmission of any of that content would indicate that the works on that site are unpublished.