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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Press Release use

 8:10 pm on Feb 2, 2004 (gmt 0)


I've read somewhere that press releases are public domain and free to use in their entirety thus must not be edited. But I'm worrying now after re-using "PR Newswire" and "Business Wire" press releases on a website. I've been sieving through their copyright notices and it doesn't look good.

Anyone care to share their advice?

Thanks, MG



 12:14 am on Feb 3, 2004 (gmt 0)


Depends on where and how you get the press release. We get many each day directly from the companies who are releasing the information or from their PR firm. They WANT you to use the information and will not have any copyright problems. Also, a press release that is on the companies own website is available for your use.

Now, what you can't do is get a press release for a company off of an unrelated site like MSNBC.com. This often (but not always) includes the news wire sites you mentioned. Most want you to pay a fee to obtain information from them.

So, what do you do if you see a press release you would like to post? Go the the website for the company who released the press release and see if they have it posted. Look under the "About" section. Or simple email them and ask for a copy.


 8:50 pm on Feb 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

XML Mania, the people who issue press releases expect them to be edited when they are picked up by news media, trade mags, etc. Very few publications print them verbatim; those that do tend to be bottom-feeders. If your site is offering industry news, for example, you are probably OK using the press release content as little or as much as you wish.

If you are using their press release as miscellaneous content on your site, you might be better off rewriting it extensively. I don't believe they can object to an article about how the Widgetizer Company is introducing three new models of widgets for the fall season, whether or not the article is based on their news release. The one dicey circumstance that comes to mind is if you are using their trademarks to sell competitive products.

Unintended or abnormal use of the press release content could also be sticky - for example, if you reproduced their press release verbatim but deleted company references, you'd almost certainly have a problem.


 8:59 pm on Feb 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

Suggestion: Why don't you check to see if the entity sending the release publishes any "terms of use" on their website? If you follow their guidelines - if they exist - you've got that as a defense if the lawyers come knocking. Then, your response is "Hey, take it up with your PR firm. Here's their terms of use".

Keep a copy of the TCU.


 10:30 pm on Feb 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

Why don't you check to see if the entity sending the release publishes any "terms of use" on their website?

Good suggestion if you are picking up the press release off of their website, but if they are sending it directly to you, the website's TOU has no bearing. It is a TOU for the website, not for public information sent to you by the company or its PR firm.


 12:13 am on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Why venture the assumption when the question is "are there any restrictions or conditions upon my use of this material?" Many a soul has paid the price for their assumptions. Go to the source. Do a little research.

You know, I hate doing the research that others should be doing for themselves but sometimes, speaking in my best Mr. T voice, "I pity the fool" ;-) (and I ain't callin' anyone a fool because I've been known to put my foot in my mouth...so I ain't goin' there)

Take at look at the footer of the index page for PRNewswire.com. See that link that says "Terms and conditions, including restrictions on redistribution, apply." Here's what is says when you click on it

Members of PR Newswire are solely responsible for the facts and accuracy of all information submitted by them for transmission by PR Newswire. The only responsibility of PR Newswire shall be to use its reasonable efforts to correct any error of fact, timing or omission brought to its attention. PR Newswire reserves the right to reject copy when necessary in its judgment.

All other uses of PR Newswire's daily news release file, including but not limited to any electronic redistribution or database storage and retrieval -- whether or not for resale -- in full, in part, in full text or in abstract, is prohibited without the express written consent of PR Newswire.

Inquiries concerning the use of PR Newswire text, photos, video, audio and other content should be addressed to Ken Dowell, Vice President of Media and Content Development, PR Newswire, 806 Plaza Three, Harborside Financial Center, Jersey City, NJ 07311, USA.

Thus dies another urban legend in the throes of its birth.

OBTW - my other occupation is the practice of law, for 20+ years. I've found that people who give themselves the benefit of the doubt are often the first to fail. When in doubt give the other person/company the benefit of the doubt = don't resolve doubts in favor of yourself and your own self-interest unless you want to 1) make enemies; 2) lose friends; 3) lose trust; 4) get sued.

"Ask permission, explain assumptions and disclose" is a good rule to live by.


 1:42 am on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Webwork, you make some good points. As a member of the working press for a period of yeas, though, I can state that I never heard of a reporter, editor, or publication requesting permission to use information contained in a press release. Never. Indeed, much of my time was spent fending off PR flaks desperate to score a mention of their client in the most insignificant publication. After trade shows, I'd sometimes ship a large box of press materials back to the office due to their sheer bulk. If someone shoves a folder of releases and photos in your hand and says, "use this", it's considered fair game.

I think it's inconceivable that a firm would claim a copyright violation if their press release was used in any kind of legitimate news context - that's why they spend so much money creating and distributing them. PR firms scour publications to find fragments of their work to carry proudly back to their corporate clients.

Putting releases on the web may have changed things a bit by opening the potential distribution to non-press people, but has also expanded the potential for client exposure in small specialty sites, blogs, forums, etc.

The gray area, and one where permission would be an excellent idea, is a use that wasn't clearly a news site. For example, if a site that sells widgets reprints a bunch of press releases, some might consider that use inappropriate.

All things considered, I tend to agree that having permission is far better. It would seem that permission could take a variety of forms. A letter to a PR firm saying, "I've got a widget website, and we are interested in publishing information about your client's new product line" will almost certainly result in a deluge of materials with plenty of encouragement to use as much as possible. The client firm could hardly fuss about their release info appearing on the site.

I greatly prefer the idea of turning releases into articles with some minor editing. Cheap trade mags make a standard practice of this. (Better mags write articles that may include some data from releases but also include original reporting and quotes from independent sources. PR people often prefer the less diligent trade mags, as less of their puffery is edited out.) Not only will writing articles be typical editorial use of the release, but it will let you target headings, page length, and keywords to your needs.

Overall, I'll defer to the expertise of real lawyers. XML Mania, I'll also add the comment that we don't provide actual legal advice here - please consult your attorney if you need legal help; he/she will be able to spend the time to assess the details of your situation and ferret out information that might not appear in a brief forum post.


 5:35 am on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Webwork: You are comparing apples with oranges. We have been discussing using press releases provided by a company or its PR firm. PR Newswire is neither of these. It is a wire service that is in the business of making it easy for the press to get press releases in their area of interest. So they want to restrict your ability to use a press release obtained off of their service without paying a fee, and rightly so. But when a company like Ford or Microsoft sends you a press release directly, you have complete freedom to use it. That is the whole purpose of the press release. The company wants to generate good PR and exposure. They want media buzz.


 9:30 am on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Great informative replies, very helpful information. I've contacted the websites in question to be safe.

Thanks, MG


 9:51 am on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Roger, I'm not at all saying you don't know the business better than I do. What I'm addressing is the attempt to use news releases for "other than their intended purpose".

Hypothetically, some little conniver gets the bright idea "Hey, my content autogeneration program isn't being well received. I know! I'll start hauling in news releases, feed my database with their content and spew out news-directory-blah sites! Add AdSense or whatever and ca-ching! My latest cash machine."

Just what the world needs, right?

Now, this would likely be seen as the commercialization of the news release and the source would likely have something to say about it. Likewise, the holders of the trademarks would also have something to say.

This is just one variation of "What can a poor guy do with pseudo-content to make a buck?" that is likely to have real repercussions.

I agree with you in general and defer to your expertise about the general legitimate practices. However, I'm addressing myself to the world of creative scoundrels, ne'er do wells, outright thieves and people willing to do whatever suits their financial interests until they are otherwise spanked. On the subject of "can I go or get away with this" my hunch is that the corporations running the news servicess will aggressively spank = sue the pants off anyone who attempts to exploit the product of their service in a such blatantly commercial manner.

I'd put this in the "no warning letter, just sue the ***" category. Just a hunch. The next newswire is how the S.O.B. has just been sued for exploiting the system.

Caveat scoundrels.

[edited by: eelixduppy at 10:00 pm (utc) on Feb. 18, 2009]


 12:04 pm on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

If your site comes across as a news ezine, you will have no problem getting permission to copy/paraphrase press releases. Just get onto the mailing lists of PR companies directly rather than the aggregators.


 1:47 pm on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

I agree with you about using the releases for other purposes than intended, Webwork. Porting over a batch of releases to bulk up an affiliate site, for example, could be risky.

As always in business, better safe than sorry...:)


 6:10 pm on Feb 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm not at all saying you don't know the business better than I do. What I'm addressing is the attempt to use news releases for "other than their intended purpose".

Great points in your post! Thanks.


 5:24 pm on Feb 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Can I inject a little humor into this topic? :)

While looking for some information today, I stumbled across the "Press Release Writer," a text generator that does nothing but generate press releases about itself. (Somehow I think there's a social commentary in there about the nature of marketing and PR but I'm too tired today to persue that avenue! *grin*) Anyway, here's a sample phrase from a just-generated release:

"Responding afterwards to reporters' questions, the program firmly denied insider knowledge of Michael Jackson's personal life, and denounced persistent rumors that its so-called 'mania' for publicity was simply a smokescreen to disguise its real agenda."


Dunno, it just tickled my funny bone.


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