What do you know about copyright? Check out these five copyright basics to ensure you know what you should… as a writer!
1. What is Copyright?
The moment you write any original literary work, you become the sole owner of the copyright in that work (unless you are a freelancer, employee or joint author). As copyright owner, you have the exclusive right to reproduce your work, make it public for the first time, communicate it to the public, recite or perform it in public, or make any adaptation of it (including dramatised or picturised versions and translations). Your copyright will last forever if the work in question is never published, but once published it will last for the entirety of your life, plus 70 years (prior to 1 January 2005, this was 50 years).
2. What is Not Copyright?
‘Literary works’ do NOT include ideas, concepts or themes, names or titles, headlines, slogans or invented words. Some of these may be covered by other areas of law (such as trade mark law), but not copyright.
Similarly, if you choose to describe your unpublished novel on your website or blog, the premise behind that novel is not protected. Anyone could copy the idea, the same way you could copy anyone else’s published ideas. Of course doing a better job with that idea is another question entirely.
3. What Do You Have to Do?
You do not have to apply for copyright in Australia or the UK, it simply exists from the moment you create and record your literary work. In other countries, writers have to apply for copyright through a system of registration (forms and fees, ugh!), but in Australia and the UK it is free and automatic. You don’t even need to put a copyright notice on anything (ie. © Zena Shapter 2012), although this can sometimes be advisable as it can remind people that a work is protected and by whom.
4. What Do They Have to Do?
If someone wants to accuse you of copyright infringement, they must prove you used (or authorised the use of) a substantial part of their literary work without permission. Deciding what is a ‘substantial part’ is a matter of fact and degree. It can be a large part, or a small part that’s an important, essential or distinctive part of the whole.
5. Moral Rights
If you create a literary work, you have the ‘moral right’ to be attributed (wherever reasonably possible) as the creator of that work. This right will be infringed should you not be (correctly) attributed as creator, or if your work is treated in a manner that is detrimental to your reputation. This right exists separately to your copyright, although it also arises automatically and lasts for the same period of time as copyright.