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Copyright and Laws: What You Need to Know

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 21 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Copyright; Copyrights; Copyright Law;

As a creative writer it’s up to you to protect your intellectual property. Whether you compose for recreational or professional reasons, you should always be up to date on copyright laws as a matter of principle.

Below are some of the most important facts regarding copyrights. If you’re serious about keeping your writings safe, you should conduct further investigation to ensure that your rights are never violated (and, if they are, that you know what to do).

Copyright Laws in General

As the owner of your works’ copyrights, you are entitled to use them any way you want, including self-publishing or selling them. You may also rewrite them and resell the rewrites without obtaining permission.

Until you sign away the rights to your works, you are the excusive “owner” of your poems, short stories, novels, songs, et cetera. This means that if someone else publishes your pieces (or claims them as their own) without your consent, they are in violation of copyright laws.

It sounds very simple, but there exist grey areas, such as bloggers who “paraphrase” information from another’s blog without giving proper credit to the original blog writer. The “paraphrasers” claim this hurts no one; however, the bloggers whose original works have been copied are often angered.

At this point in time, there have been no huge lawsuits won regarding this type of cyber copyright infringement, but with the popularity of the Internet and blogging, it’s likely to become an international issue eventually.

Copyright Laws by Locale

The subtle nuances of laws governing copyrights are dependant upon where you live. Though there is an international understanding that writers have the right to protect their works, specifics vary according to state, province, or country.

For instance, the United Kingdom accepts that a writer’s pieces are basically “copyrighted” as soon as they are put onto paper or computer (or any other visual medium). In the United States, the rule is similar. Neither country requires an author to register his or her writings, though the U.S. will do so through the U.S. Copyright Office as a precautionary measure.

Copyright Laws by Example

How do you know when your copyright has been violated? Consider some of these common scenarios:
  • An unscrupulous individual obtains a copy of your manuscript (whether published or unpublished) and sells it (or passes it off) as his or her own. This is copyright violation.

  • A college student comes across your blog about France and lifts whole paragraphs, inserting them into a paper he or she is writing on the country. This is also copyright violation.

  • A blogger finds your website and absolutely agrees with an opinion you’ve stated. He or she paraphrases that opinion on his or her blog, but gives you full credit (even though you weren’t quoted directly). This is a sticky area that may or may not be in copyright violation. In most cases, the original author wants to be contacted first as a courtesy.

Copyright Law Litigation

When two writers claim ownership of the same novel, poem or article, it can become necessary to go through legal channels to determine copyright ownership. (This is the reason many writers living in America or writing for the U.S. market register their works; it’s easier to prove something belongs to you if the government has given you the “green flag” of permission).

As you become more proficient and begin to publish your manuscripts, you’ll need to be diligent about checking to see who might be “lifting” your content or reselling it illegally. There are software programs to help you, though you can always do a somewhat precursory check using one of the popular search engines. Consider this “surveillance” as part and parcel of being a practical author.

Just remember that everything you write deserves to be protected. Consequently, it’s critical to fight back when your copyrights have been infringed.

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