Companies today are under increased pressure not just to perform well, but also to be socially responsible and fully compliant with laws and regulations. The pressure comes from all sides: from government regulators and prosecutors; from shareholders, activists and the media; and from consumers and a general public that is increasingly attuned to corporate misdeeds. The collective result is the simple fact that a tarnished reputation now presents serious institutional risk.

It’s no surprise then that a premium is placed on compliance efforts these days. But even if a company’s compliance program is flawless on paper, employees can get an entirely different message from the corporate culture. Companies that want to set the right tone on compliance are well served to pay close attention to internal practices that have the potential to produce commonplace violations, such as digital copyright infringement.

Compliance professionals routinely preach the value of “tone at the top.” Yet frequently, senior executives are just as guilty of copyright infringement as lower-level employees. In one recent case a senior executive was caught routinely emailing copyrighted digital materials to two other executives, ultimately costing the employer $500,000 in settlement fees. That’s not an insignificant sum in any context, but just as damaging are the messages such behavior sends to a workforce about acceptable behavior and the significant impact on the company’s most valuable asset, its reputation.

When executives and managers routinely violate copyright laws, employees get dangerous impressions. “You can’t say that integrity is a core value and then be a scofflaw on copyright infringement,” says one general counsel. Companies that overlook compliance on digital content create an environment where employees clearly see a double standard, and are more inclined to take all compliance guidelines with a grain of salt.

Companies should take pains not only to set correct standards, but also to follow through with consistent actions. Fortunately, there are many resources available that provide tools to make copyright compliance a more straightforward process for employers and employees alike.

Copyright Clearance Center’s Annual Copyright License, for example, offers the freedom to share content from journals, newspapers, and other media while respecting the rights of copyright holders . as well as the ability to check content usage rights in real-time. Such resources expand a company’s toolbox, simplifying the process of obtaining permissions and sharing information. In other words, doing the right thing when it comes to copyright compliance doesn’t necessarily mean doing the difficult thing.

To learn more about the potential risks lack of full copyright awareness can present, read The Risky Business of Information Sharing: Why You Need to Care about Copyright whitepaper from Copyright Clearance Center. To receive a copy, register here.