Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Ins and Outs Of Copyright Law

Seeing your name in print for the first time can be a life affirming experience.  You've accomplished what many in your field dream of - you are now a published writer.  Setting out to make a living as a freelance writer and/or author, you will want to learn all you can about copyright laws and how they pertain to your writing.
     When you submit your writing to magazines, newspapers and even websites, you automatically hold the copyright, until you are able to reach an agreement to share the copyright under specific terms with the publisher or editor to which you have sold your work to.

5 Ways Copyright Law Protects Writers:

1. Prevents others from illegally using your copyrighted materials.
2. Keeps your writing safe against theft.
3. Recognizes the writer of the written material and no one else.
4. Provides legal help for both corporate and individual copyright infringement.
5. Prevents plagiarism, or any unauthorized use of written material, including public display or distribution.

     Once an understanding has been reached over who owns the copyright, you will next need to know the "usage terms" of the agreement of the conditions agree upon between you and the publisher.   These terms may list either an exclusivity or non-exclusivity clause, in which the publisher may request that your writing not be published elsewhere (exclusivity), or you may be granted permission to publish your writing in another venue (non-exclusivity).
     Publishers of magazines, newspapers or websites relies on certain rights in order to be able to publish, reproduce and distribute your writing, so therefore, requires your permission before they can proceed any further.  It is important for writers to fully know the meaning of “usage terms” before submitting their writing for publication, so that they will be fully aware of any transfer of rights, compensation or changes to the writing.

Six Ways Usage Terms Help Writers:

1. Provides provisions during publication.
2. Helps writers choose the duration of their content.
3. Come to an agreement in terms of compensation for published articles or stories.
4. Release from clear-cut legal responsibility.
5. Rules of commitment.
6. The transfer of copyright between writer and publisher.

     While you already know that copyright is your right to claim ownership of your writing, thus protecting your writing from theft, or illegal distribution.  You as the writer also have the choice to grant authorization through "use rights."  Doing so does not affect your ownership of the copyrighted work itself, unless you sign away "all rights" or "work-for-hire."
     Some publishers may be under the assumption that if no rights are bought, then they aren't using any of them.  So, here is a list of rights that publishers can acquire from writers:

1. First North American Serial Rights - You as the writer are giving permission to a publication the right to publish your work for the first time only in North America and Canada.

2. First Rights - You are giving the publisher the right to exclusively print your work as "first use."  Electronic and non-traditional publications usually are the ones to buy these rights.

3. One-Time Rights - Gives publishers the non-exclusive right to use your writing only once.  You have the ability to sell this right to more than one publication at a time.

4. Reprint Rights – You can only sell reprint rights to other publications once you have sold First North American Serial Rights.  A downside to selling reprint rights is that it will most likely bring a lower price, and the original publisher will ask to be credited alongside the second publication of the material.

5. Electronic Rights - Encompasses all types of electronic publication from CD-ROM to websites.  If you were to sell electronic rights to one type of publisher, you could possibly lose the rights to sell to another non-electronic type of publication.

6. Subsidiary Rights - When your writing has been published in the form of a book, the publisher holds the right to sell your material in other formats such as film, audio and electronic rights.

7. Worldwide Rights - Gives the publisher the right to sell your book as a translation of languages in all countries.

      Understanding the importance of copyright, you will next want to register your work.          
Registration is inexpensive – only $20 per work registered.
     Registering your writing is inexpensive - only $20 per work registered.  In order to register, you will need to fill out the copyright application and mail it off to the United States Copyright Office, along with a check and a copy of your work.  If your work has already been published, you will want to make sure you register within the next three months of publication.  Registration of your copyrighted work goes into effect the day the Copyright Office receives your application and payment.
     Once you have registered your copyrighted work, you are now able to sue for copyright infringement.  Registering your writing within 90 days of publication, you are eligible for statutory damages of up to $100,000, even if copyright infringements have occurred either before or after registration.  Registration of your copyrighted work goes into effect the day the Copyright Office receives your application and payment. 

    An author really owns a bundle of rights, which can be sold or assigned separately to a third party:

Authors Own Rights In The Following Ways:

1. The right to reproduce their work in a fixed form

2. The right to derivative works.  Meaning they can take their short story and adapt it into a novel, or take their novel or short story and turn it into a screenplay.

3. The right to sell their work, rent it or lend it out

4. The right to publicly display their work such as on their website, Facebook or MySpace pages

Exceptions To The Infringement Rules:
     These rules allow someone to reproduce someone else's work without obtaining the proper licenses or rights to that work.

1. Fair use - states that someone may use the work for a limited time either as a teaching aid or for review and/or critique purposes.

2. Public domain - when copyright law no longer protects a piece of writing.

3. Noncopyrightable Works - includes things such things as facts or ideas, which do not add up to a piece of writing as a whole.

    The awareness of copyright and how it works can literally mean the difference between you making a living as a writer, or losing the ability to sell and distribute your writing.

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