Copyright and Other Rights
Overview of Copyright: Basic, Terms
of Copyright, What is Copyright?
Other Rights: Re Notices, Rights (all,
first serial, second serial, simultaneous, work-for-hire),
Ideas, Titles, Charts & Lists, Letters, Fair Use, Electronic Rights
An Overview of Copyright
by Gloria T. Delamar
Basic Copyright Dates
The current Copyright Law, passed in 1976, went into effect January
1, 1978 (last major revision was March 1989, though there have been some
minor changes since then, including a review of fee schedules in July,
2002.). In 1989, the U. S. joined the international Berne Convention. The
previous U. S. Copyright Law of 1909 provided for initial copyright of
28 years, plus renewal of another 28 (total of 56 years protection). Interim
extensions, from 1965 on, protected works while the new law was being formulated.
The current law protects works from the time of creation to 50 years
after the author's death; in the case of co-authors, protection lasts until
50 years after the death of the last surviving author; for anonymous or
pseudonymous, or works-for- hire, protection is for 100 years from creation
or 75 years from publication, whichever comes first.
Provisions for extended copyright coverage for works that might have
gone into public domain are reflected in the breakdowns below. (Note: There
are exceptions for specific works, those of Mary Baker Eddy for instance,
passed by congressional law.) The Copyright Office will examine the status
of a work for a fee and also permits personal on-site searches. Most works
fall within the standards given below.
Thus, Varying Terms of Copyright Currrently in Place:
Copyrighted (published) before September 19, 1906
- in permanent public domain in the U.S.
Copyrighted (published) between Sept. 19, 1906 - Dec. 31, 1949
some ramifications exist with removal of requirement to officially
renew, passed in 1992; assume renewal)
- if not renewed: expiration 28 years after date first secured
- if renewed: copyright lasts 75 years from end of year secured
copyright 1907 + 75 = copyright expiration end of 1982
copyright 1924 + 75 = copyright expiration end of 1999
(thus: public domain in 2000 if published before 1925, unless covered
by a special act of congress) copyright 1949 + 75 = copyright expiration
end of 2024
Copyrighted (published) between Jan. 1, 1950 - Dec. 31, 1977
- if not renewed: expiration 28 years after date first secured (but
you're safer to assume renewal)
copyright 1950 + 28 = copyright expiration end of 1978
copyright 1977 + 28 = copyright expiration end of 2005
- if renewed: expiration 75 years from end of year first secured
copyright 1950 + 75 = copyright expiration end of 2025
copyright 1977 + 75 = copyright expiration end of 2052
Copyrighted after January 1, 1978
- copyright expires 50 years after death of author or last living co-author.
What Is Copyright?
A copyright is actually a group of five basic rights, sometimes overlapping:
Reproduction; Adaptation; Distribution; Performance; Display.
Note: even if works were "created" long ago, they are not in public
domain if not previously published--thus, "lost works" of nineteenth century
writers are not automatically in public domain--permission from heirs must
be secured for publication.
It is not necessary to register manuscripts. Works created today are
automatically protected by copyright, even if not published. Registration
with the copyright office is a formality that is necessary only if legal
actions are to be initiated.
Form TX is for published and unpublished non-dramatic works (text);
form PA is for published and unpublished works of the performing arts;
form VA is for visual arts, such as photographs, illustrations, or paintings.
The fee, as of July 2002, is $30 for a book or group of articles.
This broad overview of a complex law covers the basics; it should not
be considered in lieu of legal advice; there are numerous exceptions and
qualifications. For a copy of the Copyright Law (or numerous pamphlets
that explain it) write to:
Register of Copyrights
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington DC 20559-6000
Form Hotline (202-707-9100)
Public Information Office (202-707-3000)
Web site (http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/).
- © Gloria T. Delamar
Overview of Other Rights that
by Gloria T. Delamar
Writers, especially unestablished ones, are frequently concerned about
having their works stolen. Yes, it does happen, but the fact is that no
reputable publisher would steal a work--and why would a writer send something
to an unreputable publisher? Actually, most writers should be concerned
that they themselves do not infringe on someone else's creation.
There's a saying that "in fiction, it's called plagiarism; in nonfiction,
it's called research." This is an oversimplication, but notable. Plots
are basically few, but the way the fiction is played out can be close to
plagiarism if the author does not bring enough originality to the work.
If a nonfiction writer uses someone else's findings, the information should
be referenced, whether quoted directly or paraphrased.
"Do unto others' works as you would have them do unto your own."
Some writers put copyright notices on manuscripts they submit; this
is a matter of choice, not necessity. Works written for distribution, such
as handouts, frequently have a copyright notice on them. The usual form
is "copyright © 20XX Writer's Name." The small "c" within a circle
is the international copyright symbol.
Some writers mail a copy of a manuscript to themselves in order to establish
a date of creation, and file the postmarked envelope unopened. This is
not necessary. On the other hand, if you feel more comfortable by doing
it, go right ahead.
Most book publishers copyright books in the author's name; writers should
check book contracts to be sure they do not state that copyright will be
in the publisher's name. Any wording- changes should be made before signing.
It's important to retain book rights in your own name, as the copyright
holder has the right to further use of the material, including reprint,
performance, etc. (However, it's usual for a contract to spell out a division
of reprint or excerpt remuneration. In the working situation, the publisher
usually takes responsibility for selling reprints/excerpts and the writer
then receives his/her share of the payment.)
Various Specific Rights
The law says that magazines and newspapers have the right to only one-time
publication-use of articles they purchase. Many, however, still send contracts
that state they are buying "all rights"; changes can be written in and
initialed; some editors accept the changes as inserted and others rewrite
the contract striking the all rights clause; some may refuse to strike
First Serial Rights
The term "serial" means publications that appear in a series, ie. newpapers
Some writers like to put "Offered for First North American Serial Rights"
(this covers the U. S. and Canada) above the estimated words in the top
right of the title page, in order to give advance notice that they are
not willing to sell all rights.
Portions of unpublished books, not previously in serial format, are
also sold under "first serial rights."
Second Serial Rights
"Second Serial Rights" refers to reprints of published books, or to
articles, short stories, or poems that previously appeared in another newspaper
The term "Simultaneous Rights" applies to material sold simultaneously
to publications which do not have overlapping circulations such as religious
publications (holiday stories; general religious material) and newspapers
(features; travel pieces; opeds). If you put the words "exclusive to your
circulation area" in the upper right hand corner of your manuscript, it
effectively gives notice that you're sending the piece to more than one
publisher, but not one whose circulation overlaps. They understand this
terminology and it enables you to sell the work to more than one publication.
Some magazines still try to intimidate writers into a "work- for-hire"
claus, which means the publication buys all rights. "Work-for-hire" is
supposed to indicate that the writer is being paid to create the material
as a staff writer and that the end result belongs to the company. Congress
specifically addressed this concern and ruled that only true employees
of publications could be classified under "work-for-hire."
Beginning writers, in particular, are at a disadvantage; it's important
to get publication credits. Sometimes the decision must be to sell all
rights. Many professionals refuse to submit work to publications with "all
rights" or "work-for-hire" policies.
Ideas cannot be copyrighted--only the specific way they are expressed
can be protected.
Titles cannot be copyrighted. Famous titles, such as Gone with the
Wind, have some "fair trade" protection. Writers are free to use titles
that already have been used for other books, short stories, poems, etc.
but should stick to obscure ones. (Occasionally, some "titles" are actually
trademark-registered; if so, they generally appear with a small circled
"T" at the end.)
Charts, calendars, mere lists, etc.
Charts, calendars, mere lists, etc. cannot be copyrighted. (Some lists
are actually text--narrative exposition--thus subject to copyright protection.)
Letters have a special protection. The content of a letter belongs
to the writer. The actual physical letter may belong to someone else, but
the text, the written matter, cannot be quoted or published without permission
of the creator. This is a little- known ramification of copyright protection;
writers should beware of infringing.
"Fair use" is a term that covers quoted material. Despite the often-heard
rule that 400 words are considered fair use, there is no law that stipulates
exactly how much can be quoted. Though 300 words of a short poem would
be an infringement, 300 words from a book might not be. Factors considered
are the purpose and character of the use, nature of the work, the amount
and substantiality of the use, and its effect on the market for the original
work. The intent of the writer using the quote is also at issue. Works
of literary criticism are given considerable latitude.
Electronic Rights govern publication on the Internet and World Wide
Web. Actually, the same rights apply as those for print; the writer's work
is protected. The fact that something is posted electronically does not
place it in public domain. Also, writers should be further compensated
and sign a release form if a print-magazine electronically re-publishes
an original work of the author's.
The Authors Guild has issued an alert to writers about electronic rights.
Some publishers are automatically giving reproduction rights for previously
published magazine articles for online accessibility on various computer
networks or for special-edition CD-ROMs.
Certain magazines have already used works, for which they in turn received
royalities, without giving the writers their share of such income. As writer's
organizations have identified the problem, more magazines are now negotiating
electronic rights. Depending on the nature of the work, writers will have
to decide for themselves if a royalty recompense or an outright fee (perhaps
for one-time rights) is the appropriate return.
Both the Authors Guild and the American Society of Journalists and Authors
take the stance, "In this struggle, recognition of the simple legal principle
that every electronic publishing right initially vests in the creator until
is it expressly granted to someone else is crucial."
The issue is complex, but the gist of it is that writers should not
sign away their interests in future electronic rights. Then, when their
work is wanted for on-line or CD-ROM use, they should negotiate for fair
payment. Read all contracts carefully.
The "up" side is that many writers are now receiving bonus payments
for articles written years ago--that's GOOD news.
- © Gloria T. Delamar
For further information see the Copyright, Library of Congress Copyright