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What is Copyright?

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | Submission Tips

Vanessa O'Loughlin

Copyright is the legal term that describes the rights given to authors/creators of certain categories of work. Copyright protection extends to the following works:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • Sound recordings, films
  • Broadcasts, cable programmes
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions
  • Computer programmes
  • Original database

The owner of copyright is the author, meaning the person who creates the work. For example a photographer is the owner in the case of a photograph. However, as copyright is a form of property, the right may be transferred to someone else, for example, to a publisher. Where an employee in the course of employment creates the work, the employer is the owner of the copyright in the work, unless an agreement to the contrary exists.

Copyright is a property right and the owner of the work can control the use of the work, subject to certain exceptions. The owner has the exclusive right to prohibit or authorise others to undertake the following:

  • Copy the work
  • Perform the work
  • Make the work available to the public through broadcasting or recordings
  • Make an adaptation of the work.

Copyright takes effect as soon as the work is put on paper, film, or other fixed medium such as CD-ROM, DVD, Internet, etc. No protection is provided for ideas while the ideas are in a person’s mind; copyright law protects the form of expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

Rights are not restricted just to the creators of the works themselves but certain other rights may apply. For example, the record company has certain rights in a sound recording of the performance of a song, in addition the author(s) of the lyrics and the music will also have certain copyrights.· Similarly performing artists have certain rights in their performances. The legislation also provides for moral rights, such as the right to be acknowledged as the author of a particular work and also the right to object to derogatory treatment of that work.

The primary legislation governing copyright in Ireland is the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 (No. 28 of 2000)

Safeguarding copyright

Many writers worry about safeguarding their copyright. Copyright cannot be registered like a trademark, but as described above, as soon as you set something original down on paper the copyright belongs to you automatically. This means no one can print (copy) it without your permission for the duration of your life and for 70 years after your death.

• You can put the copyright symbol on your work as a warning – typing ‘(c)’ on most word processors automatically changes to © – but there is no legal need and it may make you appear precious to potential publishers. If you fear you might be plagiarised, the easiest way to strengthen your argument in any future court case is to send a copy of the work to yourself by registered mail and store it unopened as proof that you wrote it before the registered date on the envelope. If you’re really paranoid, you could send it to an independent person (e.g. a solicitor or bank) and ask for it to be lodged in your name. Bear in mind that all computers record the date on a file when it is saved and that this information can be extracted easily by the right person should a dispute arise.

• Copyright to commissioned work belongs to the writer, unless s/he signs a contract that states otherwise. Some newspapers and magazines syndicate material to other publications. Strictly speaking they should obtain the authors’ permission first – and proffer a fee.

• If you want to quote a poem or song lyrics in your published or broadcast writing, this is permitted provided it does not exceed 10 per cent of the original work. Any longer and you must seek permission from the author via their publisher or recording company. Quotation for teaching purposes is permitted. If you are submitting a completed book to a publisher and a poem or lyrics are quoted, it is your responsibility to see that permissions have been granted and royalties have been fully paid. Be very careful and ensure you have full permissions if you wish to quote popular lyrics.

When you sign a publishing contract, you are assigning your copyright within certain territories (geographical areas such as UK and Commonwwealth, North America, Germany, France etc) to the publishing company – you are selling them your work and giving them a license to reproduce it.

Publishing contracts are very complex documents and we strongly advice consulting a publishing professional BEFORE you sign in order that it can be explained to you. This can be an agent, or a publishing consultant who can charge you a one off fee rather than take a commission on your book sale.

The majority of publishing contracts issued in the first instance are boiler-plate contracts that are designed to be negotiated. In order to ensure that you have the best possible deal, and fully understand the implications of what you are signing, it is essential to get advice. We would not recommend selling worldwide rights (and this can be phrased in several ways) except in exceptional circumstances. Each geographical territory represents a new sales area for you as an author, territories that you cannot exploit if you have sold your rights worldwide in one transaction.

With thanks to www.mslexia.co.uk and the Irish Patent Office for the information contained in this article.

About the author

(c) Vanessa O’Loughlin 2010

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  • www.designforwriters.com

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