(Original Version: Writers.com Vol. 3, No. 7 July 2000;
This Version July 2002)
Sometimes new writers
confuse publication rights and copyright. The right to publish what you
have written is what you offer when you submit a story or article for sale.
Your copyright -- your right to the distribution of your work --already
exists and you are offering a publication the permission to publish it. If
you would like to know more about the rights you are offering for sale, see
Writers Workshop: Very Basic Right Basics
There's no reason for
anyone to be misinformed or ignorant of the basics of copyright. The
information is easily available on the Web and elsewhere. Still, I've run
across a lot of folks who seem to be clueless, so maybe a few resources and
basics are in order.
I'll be referring to US
Copyright, but here are some sites that cover:
For more US information I recommend:
I am not a lawyer. This isn't legal advice. I highly recommend checking out
the sites mentioned above for more detailed information.
is the law that protects people who create "original works of
authorship". It gives the copyright owner the right to determine who
can make copies of it the work and how many copies can be made. This right
can be sold or licensed to someone else. It can be bought in advance for
work someone has hired you to do, as in "work for hire."
exists as soon as the original work is created in a tangible form -- your
ideas and thoughts aren't copyrighted, but as soon as you "fix"
that idea on paper, on a disk, in email, in computer code, whatever -- it's
copyrighted. In general, copyright established after 1978 lasts until 70
years after the author 's death. The work also has to be
"creative" -- not just factual -- but just about anything you
write, draw, record, sculpt, photograph or create architecturally IS
considered creative. (Remember -- *tangible form*. If it's just something
you say, it has to be recorded to be in a fixed form; choreography has to
be annotated or recorded.)
means that just about anything original you write and put down on paper,
put in email, post anywhere on the Net or code is copyrighted. And even
though factual data can't be copyrighted -- a "creative"
compilation, organization or editing of those facts can be. No copyright notice
is required. (Then why is there a copyright notice on these Web pages?
Because a notice serves as a warning to people not to violate copyright.)
can't be copyrighted? Things like titles, names, characters, slogans, blank
forms, information that is common property like calendars, height and
weight charts, rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or
other common sources. Titles, slogans, etc. can, however be trademarked --
but that's something else entirely.
copyright has to do with protecting your right to profit from your creative
labors. Obviously, you want to be the one to derive benefits from the
making and distribution (or public performance or display) of copies of
your work. Copyright infringement suits usually don't happen unless some
serious money is involved. So, really, to be enforced, that copyright
should have some commercial value to it. Regular email, for instance,
usually has no commercial value, but an article written for this newsletter
might. Posting email on Usenet or Web site without permission is a
violation of copyright. Posting, as opposed to private email, anywhere on
the Net definitely means it IS published -- and plenty of people can read
it -- and by giving it away free you CAN damage that value. You can extract
factual information, but that doesn't mean you can use the actual wording
or its "creative compilation." In general, you should at least
ask to reproduce something someone else has created before posting it
don't have to go through any legal formalities to establish these rights.
However, formal registration makes a public record of the basic facts of a
particular copyright and adds additional protection. You can have evidence
that it is yours, but registering it gives you statutory and more easily
enforceable rights. Among other legal niceties, if you are going to file an
infringement suit, this formal registration is necessary. Registration made
within 3 months of publication or before infringement means you can receive
statutory damages and attorney's fees in court actions. Otherwise you can
get only actual damages and profits. Registration costs $30, and involves
filling out a form and sending a copy of the work to the Library of
Congress. The forms are available online. (Recently services have started
up online to do this for you. If all they are doing is filing the forms,
you need to determine if this convenience is worth the extra charge.)
the most part, you don't have to worry about anyone stealing your work.
Reputable editors don't steal stories. Sure, you occasionally hear of
publishers or studios being sued for stealing a story or song. These
usually occur when large amounts of money are involved. Most such suits are
groundless and far more frequent in entertainment fields other than book or
the Web has increased some violations of copyright. However, for most new writers, most such violations are
quickly discovered and just as quickly ended. If you discover such
infringement of your copyright, write a letter to the offending party
requesting that the material be removed. If you receive a refusal or no
action, inform the sites Internet Service Provider about the situation. The
Science Fiction-Fantasy Writers of America Web site has an excellent article
by an attorney on exactly what you should do if your work is pirated: Protecting Your Work from
-- the theft of electronic rights from writers and artists -- is a problem for well-published or
professional authors. As SFWA sums it up, "E-theft occurs when a
party, without authorization from the copyright owner, makes an electronic
copy of a work, and causes it to be available to others. It does not matter
if this is done by the transfer of files from person to person, or if the
work is posted to the Internet. It is still theft." It will become a
problem for you as you progress as a writer. Become aware now: SFWA E-Piracy Section. You can also learn about the legal case Harlan Ellison v. Stephen Robertson et al. and Ellison's KICK Internet Policy Campaign.
-- Paula Guran
Copyright © 2002 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.