Overview of Copyright: Basic, Terms
of Copyright, What is Copyright?
Basic Copyright Dates
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
Copyrighted (published) between Sept. 19, 1906 - Dec. 31, 1949
Copyrighted (published) between Jan. 1, 1950 - Dec. 31, 1977
Copyrighted after January 1, 1978
What Is Copyright?
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Form TX is for published and unpublished non-dramatic works (text); form PA is for published and unpublished works of the performing arts; form VA is for visual arts, such as photographs, illustrations, or paintings.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
Form Hotline (202-707-9100)
- © 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 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 the clause.
First Serial Rights
Portions of unpublished books, not previously in serial format, are also sold under "first serial rights."
Second Serial Rights
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.
Charts, calendars, mere lists, etc.
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. DelamarFor further information see the Copyright, Library of Congress Copyright Web Site.
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