What is copyright, how is it created, and what does it protect?

What is a copyright, how is it created and what does it protect?

By Tonya M. Evans (excerpt from Copyright Companion for Writers)

once-upon-a-timeIf you have created an original literary or artistic work in some tangible form – in writing, electronic file or on film or canvas, for example – then nothing more is required as copyright is created automatically.

So in order for a copyright to exist, you must have created a literary or artistic work that is original (independently created) and tangibly expressed in a form that is actually capable of being copied.

In general, the Copyright Act gives a copyright owner the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  1. Copy the work
  2. Prepare derivative works based on the original (screenplay based on a novel or vice versa)
  3. Distribute copies of the work to the public (publication)
  4. Publicly display
  5. Publicly perform

Collectively, these rights are often referred to as an author’s exclusive bundle of rights.

Need more info? Pick the reference that’s right for you from our LWP Bookshelf

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What writers should know about contributing to a mag, newspaper or other collective work

Contributing to a Collective Work

By Professor Tonya M. Evans

copyrightsymbolCopyright in your contribution to a collective work is completely separate and distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in you as the author of the contribution. And unless you expressly transfer the entire bundle of rights that makes up copyright or of any of the individual rights in the bundle, the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing your contribution as part of that particular collective work, as well as any revision of that collective work, and any later collective work in the same series.

Of course, if you sign a contract that requires you to transfer some or all of your rights in your individual work to the publisher of the collective work, you should pay particular attention to whether the transfer is so comprehensive that it prevents even you from using your work for a certain period of time or forever.

contracts-companion-cover_200I cover these contractual issues in detail in my books Literary Law Guide for Authors Contracts Companion for Writers. This how-to guide answers the most common questions writers ask about publishing, agency, coauthoring, working-for-hire, and other agreements.




What is the Poor Man’s Copyright and how can it protect my work?

Man Scratching Head

Copyright Tonya M. Evans. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Literary Law Guide for Authors

The short answer? It CAN’T. Surprised?

The concept known as the poor man’s copyright says basically that you should mail yourself a copy of your work and not open it in order to establish the date that your work existed in case you ever need to defend your work or challenge a work you believe infringes on your rights.

This, unfortunately, is a myth that continues to be perpetuated even by established writers and it should no longer exist in the writing world!

The Poor Man’s Copyright does not offer any additional protection beyond that which already exists once your idea is fixed and thus your work is created. Additionally it does not constitute a registration of your copyright.

Registration is generally straightforward and inexpensive (as low as $35, as of this posting) – a small price to pay to preserve valuable rights. Consider it an insurance policy. For more information about copyright, visit Copyright.gov.

Don’t leave your rights to chance. Let our expert LWP legal team register your work with RegisterRight™!

Know Your (Serial) Rights

By Professor Tonya M. Evans


Know Your (Serial) Rights

When you transfer to a publisher the right to publish your work, you should spell out in writing exactly what rights the publisher has acquired. This doesn’t need to be a formal document – a series of e-mails confirming the arrangement is certainly acceptable. But whatever the method of memorializing the deal, it should be clear whether the publisher is acquiring first serial rights, second serial rights (also known as reprint rights), all rights, or whether the publisher has commissioned you to create a work as a work made for hire to be used in a collective work.

We cover this and other important literary law issues in our series of legal reference guides for writers.

Related #AnswerZone posts: Contributing to a Collective Work