Friday, November 26, 2010

Copyright or Copywrong?

Hey all,

It's Friday and that means another wonderful guest blogger.  Today I have the awesome Mina Kelly, a fellow Loose Id author.  She has an informative post about copyright issues that can be helpful for all of us.  Authors and non-authors alike.  

But before we get into that, let's get to know Mina a little bit.  This comes from the Loose Id website...

Mina Kelly lives in one of England's most historic cities. During the day she cooks from Roman recipes and swings medieval swords, trying to convince the tourists that history is more than just a pretty background to a photograph. From this she draws inspiration for her mixed up myths and flirtatious fairy tales, and has an especial fondness for things that go bump in the night.

So now we know a little more about Mina, so let's see what she has to say to us.  Please join me in welcoming author Mina Kelly to my blog!


Since the Cooks Source debacle, I thought it might be a good time for a quick refresher on copyright. It's up to individuals to keep themselves up to date; as with any law, ignorance is not excuse for breaking it, as Judith Griggs found out.

A lot of people confuse copyright infringement and plagiarism, so, firstly, the difference:
Plagiarism - taking someone else's work without proper attribution
Copyright Infringement - taking someone else's work without proper permission

'Someone else's work' is as straightforward as it sounds. It doesn't matter if it's a blog post online, a shopping list, or a worldwide bestselling novel. If you didn't write it, you need to be very careful about using it.

In most countries copyright expires 70 years after the creator's death, unless it's owned by a company or the copyright holder can't be identified, in which case in the UK it's 70 years after creation and in the US 95 years or 120 after first publication, whichever expires first (and even then there are still some exceptions, like Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street Hospital). There's only two ways a work can enter the Public Domain: when the copyright expires, or if the copyright owner decides to put it there. Putting something on the internet does not make it Public Domain, any more than publishing it in a newspaper, paying someone to shout it from the rooftops, or hiring a plane to sky-write it would.

In the US, you're encouraged to register copyright, which is something very few other countries bother with. Even unregistered, you still have the copyright and in most circumstances it's fairly easy to prove that, but should you find yourself in a position where you need to prosecute someone for infringement you'll find it much harder to recoup any losses if you or your publisher haven't registered copyright.

Copyright gives the creator of a work power over how it is used. They can control what mediums the work appears in, what royalties they get from it, and how other people use it. Copyright applies to: “original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes, and the typographical arrangement of published editions.” The copyright owner has the right to right “to be identified as author or director, to object to derogatory treatment of work, and the right to privacy of certain photographs and films”. Copyright does not cover titles or slogans (these need to be trademarked), processes (need to be patented) or ideas (just deal with the fact that with seven billion people in the world it's not uncommon for two of them to have the same idea at once).

Always check when signing contracts. You'll find some scams (and some legitimate businesses who don't understand the law, which is just as bad) have contracts that actively try and take your copyright away from you. In almost every conceivable circumstance this is a sign to walk away, fast. However, if you work in an office, you'll probably find your job contract cedes the copyright of anything you produce at work to your employers (unless you're a freelance contractor).

This is mainly so you can't take the work you've done there - the database you built or the form letters you wrote or the logo you designed - to your next job. It includes any writing you do when the phone's quiet or those doodles you scratched out while waiting for the photocopier repair man. Most businesses won’t care, further than the fact you’re not working, but it does give them rights over your work that they could exercise if they wished.
On the flip side of copyright, there's also 'Fair Use'. This gives you the right to reproduce certain parts of a copyrighted work for some very well defined reasons:

- research and private study
- reviews, criticism and news reporting
- education and instruction
- libraries and archives
- judicial proceedings
- parody

There are generally considered to be limits regarding the amount of a work that can be quoted (the amount depends on the medium and the copyright of that country), and it must always be credited. Works of parody must be sufficiently different to the original so as not to cause confusion. It must always be perfectly, absolutely clear that the copyrighted material belongs to the copyright owner, and not the person using it. Derivative works, such as fanfiction, do not generally fall under Fair Use.

If you're looking for more information, most countries put these kinds of acts online. The UK's HERE and the US's HERE. I'm going to be a bit partisan and tell you the UK's is considerably easier to understand, which is something I'm finding is true throughout both governments' websites (I've been applying for an ITIN so I don't get taxed in both countries for the same novella, and it turns out when it comes to plain English, it's the English that do it better!). If you're ever uncertain about a matter of copyright, try to establish who the current copyright holder is. If you can't, it's usually best to play it safe and avoid using the copyrighted work altogether. Simply crediting it only means you've avoided plagiarising the creator, not that you haven't broken the law, and you could find yourself facing the kind of backlash Cooks Source did, and being used as an example in guest blogs like this one!

Great information there for those who want to understand why we authors are up in arms about piracy and those stealing our stories for their own use.  We aren't crazy, nor are we greedy.  All we want is our just due.  So please take a moment to check out the links Mina has given so you can see why copyright is so important and why copywrong hurts us all!

Find out more about Mina and her work by going to her website HERE.  Or check out her latest work, TEASE at Loose Id.

See you on Monday for another blog on something or someone.  LOL  Have an awesome weekend!


CJ England  

Follow Your Dreams


Phylis said...

Thanks for the copyright explanation! It's nice to have them refreshed and I don't blame writers for being up in arms. It's wrong.

CJ England said...

I wonder why what seems so simple is so difficult for some people. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Geesh!

nkkingston said...

Copyright does have its funny little niggles, but they're just not the kind of thing you're going to run into on a day to day basis. Unless you're trying to do something with Peter Pan, I guess, but the simple solution is simply to do something else instead.

CJ England said...

Hey Nkkingston,

Most people don't have to worry about it. But when you do!