The fine details of Copyright Law vary slightly from country to country but there are certain principles and guidelines which remain universal and all writers should have a basic understanding of the rights they retain in their written works.
What Is Copyright Law?
Copyright Laws exist to protect all creative people from the theft of their intellectual property – that is to say the works that they have created, whether those are pieces of writing, works of art, inventions etc.
Most major countries follow the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which automatically entitles authors to ownership of the copyright in their work, until they disclaim it or the copyright expires.
In Relation to Writers, What Does Copyright Law Cover?
Copyright Law, as far as it relates to writers covers all forms of writing: from novels to articles, from scientific documents to instruction manuals. Whenever writers express their ideas in any form of words, they own the right to that form of words whether it is fiction or non-fiction, whether it is in the form of prose, poetry or screenplay.
What Does Copyright Law Not Cover?
Copyright Law does not apply to titles (e.g. of books), although a title or name can be registered as a trademark.
“Most importantly, be aware that in relation to writing fiction or non-fiction, Copyright Law can not be applied to an idea. It can only be applied to the precise form of words used to express or interpret the idea, i.e. the actual screenplay, the novel, the poem, the article.” – explains manager and top-writer at paper writing service Essayup.com.The author only owns the right to his or her words, not the concept.
Writers should therefore, protect themselves against the theft of their ideas, by exercising caution and only presenting proposals to editors or producers with whom they have a relationship, or whom they trust.
Is it Necessary to Register the Work to Own the Copyright?
The short answer to this question, is no, it is not necessary to register a work to own the copyright in it. As soon as the written work exists in a tangible form – manuscript, screenplay, computer disk – the writer owns the copyright.
The longer answer to this question is more complicated. The author’s rights to the work may have to be proved if any theft occurs and the author wants to take action.
Should circumstances arise where a writer has to prove ownership, in a court case for example, then the question of the date of origination of the work will become relevant. Proving the date at which ownership commenced is easy with books, films, magazines, even some web pages, but if the work remains unpublished, and is in manuscript form, then some other form of proof is required.
Some countries, such as the USA have organizations which simplify the process of registering ownership of, for example, a movie screenplay. Some professional writers’ organizations offer manuscript registration services.
In the UK and in Holland, the concept of mailing a sealed envelope containing the manuscript to yourself, and keeping it sealed, is an acceptable method of providing a date stamp and proof of ownership. This is sometimes referred to as “Poor Man’s Copyright”.
Writers may also deposit a manuscript with a bank or attorney in a sealed envelop and have it date stamped and recorded.
On the internet, pages or articles should be marked:
- Copyright [dates] by [your name]
- Can Writers Sell Their Copyright to Another Person?
- “Writers for hire”, ghost writers, journalists or any other writers may accept contracts which give the author’s copyright to their employers.
Normally writers “license” their work to another person or organization in a contract which will place limits on publication or productions governing:
- Area (state, country, worldwide)
- Exclusivity (if the other party has the exclusive sole rights to the work)
- Time (how long the other party has the right to use the work, or has exclusive use of the work)
- How Long Does Copyright Last?
In general copyright rests with the creator of the work and lasts until 70 years after the death of the author, although each country may have further provisos.
For more about the basics of Freelance Writing.
The fine details of Copyright Law may vary slightly from country to country, therefore authors, scriptwriters, or other freelance writers should take proper legal advice in cases where they feel they have to take serious action. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) a United Nations agency was created in 1967 and gives details on its website of each member state’s intellectual property laws.