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As a writer, copyright likely protects your work. You can use this protection to your advantage and ensure that you are the only person copying, publishing or profiting from your work. Alternatively, you may wish to allow others to share your work, so it can be seen by as many people as possible. Copyright gives you these choices, and the right to control how your writing is used. This article will provide a guide to copyright protection for writers, and help you navigate how copyright can benefit your writing.

What Is Copyright? 

Copyright is an intellectual property tool. Copyright applies automatically to your writing automatically once it is put on paper, so you do not need to register it. It applies to a range of creative work, including:

  • literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, such as writing; 
  • sound recordings; 
  • films; and 
  • communication works.

Under copyright law literary work is any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, that is written, spoken, or sung. 

Copyright gives you exclusive rights and protections. These protections mean that you:

  • are the only person who can copy or use your work;
  • can determine if you would like anyone else to copy or use your work; and
  • have legal protection if somebody uses your work without permission.

To signal that your work has copyright protection, you can use the © symbol. However, you do not need to use the copyright symbol if you do not want to; your work enjoys protection regardless for your entire life plus 50 years. 

There are, however, certain circumstances where others can use your writing without your permission. These include:

  • research;
  • private study;
  • criticism or review; and
  • reporting current events.

Therefore, if someone were to write a review about one of your books, they could do so without your permission. However, their usage of your work must be fair.

In addition to legal rights, copyright also comes with certain moral rights. For example, you have the right:

  • to be credited as the author of the writing;
  • against false accreditation; and
  • to integrity, or the right not to have your writing treated in a derogatory way.

These rights stay with your work, regardless of who owns the legal copyright protections.

Copyright Ownership

Generally, as the creator of the writing, you will be the copyright owner of your work. However, this can change in certain circumstances. For example, if you are employed by someone else to write, depending on your employment agreement, they may be the copyright owner. If you work in a job where you regularly create intellectual property such as writing, you should verify with your employer who owns the copyright in your work.

If you are working as a freelancer or contractor, or working for commission, copyright ownership can be unclear. Writers should enter into an agreement that outlines the work you will be doing and who the copyright owner will be, to avoid confusion in the future.

What Can I Do With My Copyright?

Licence Agreements 

A licence agreement is a way for a copyright owner to allow another person to use their copyright material. For example, you may want to allow the publication of your book through a publisher, or to sell and promote your book. A licence agreement will document how the other party can use your work, and will detail any compensation you will receive in return. Licence agreements allow you to maintain ownership of the copyright to your work while allowing others to use it. 

Assignment 

An assignment is a complete transfer of copyright material and ownership to another person. This is different to a licence agreement, where you retain your copyright ownership. A legally binding assignment must set out the material that is being assigned, the new owners and have the signatures of both parties. Because assignment involves giving up your copyright protection, it is critical that you seek legal advice before assigning your copyright protected writing.

Key Takeaways

Writers create copyright protected material constantly throughout their careers. Because of this, it is critical as a writer that you have a good understanding of your copyright protections. When promoting and selling your writing, you must also understand the processes of assignment and licensing. Knowledge of copyright will help you benefit from your writing, and keep your work protected. If you need further assistance with copyright and your writing, contact LegalVision’s experienced IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

I write for an employer. Who owns the copyright for my work?

If you are unsure about the ownership of the intellectual property you create, then you should clarify this with your employer. Your employment agreement may provide answers as to who owns the copyright in your work.

Can copyright protect ideas?

Copyright cannot protect ideas. Copyright protects your writing, but it will not protect the idea behind the story you have written about. This allows other writers to write about similar topics in their own careers, without infringing copyright.

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