Copyright Law for Creative People - What you need to know

Law and Disorder ezine legal cartoons and articles Paul BrennanThe great thing about being industriously creative is that copies of your creative work can be sold again and again for years and years.  But do you have ownership?  Have you given it away?  Or did you not own it in the first place i.e. your boss owns it ? 

When I say anything creative I mean for example books, articles, training materials, plays, drawings, paintings, graphics, photographs, music and songs etc., etc.  If you create something good, other people will want it.

At present you use “your” creative works anyway, and are never challenged but attitudes are changing.  Such works are Intellectual Property (“IP”);  IP has been described as the 21st century’s competitive weapon.  People will increasingly enforce their IP rights over creative works that they own.  So will you.  Such works are protected by “Copyright” literally, the right to copy.  Normally if you create the work, you have the right to copy it and have the right to allow other people to copy it.  Copyright is a very powerful protection.

Here are four things for creative people to know about copyright:

  1. Automatic.  No registration or form of words is required to create a copyright work, it is protected as soon as you produce it, provided that it is original.
  2. Protection lasts for the life of the author (i.e. you), plus seventy years.
  3. International.  The powerful print, record, film and software lobbies have been successfully working with governments for years to have similar laws and conventions to enhance copyright protection.
  4. Creating a copyright work costs nothing.  No registration fees.  No legal documents.

If you produce a great creative work, someone will copy it.  In fact the better the work the more it will be copied.  Copying “original” creative works is a “copyright infringement” and the easiest way to deal with this is violently.  However, this is illegal, even if it is comparatively cheaper than law.

Here are the defences that infringers use:

Another defence often raised is “I didn’t know it was copied”.  However, copyright infringement does not need intention, the act is enough.

Here are five things that you can do to protect your work:

Don’t underestimate the power you have by telling a publication that they have used your work without permission.  You could force all the copies to be pulped and ruin the reputation of the person who supplied it.  Be very, very, very careful in exercising this power as it can seriously backfire.

A copyright infringement win can be very satisfying not only does it sound great but it gives the impression that there is something worth taking.  However, do not expect a financial killing unless you have really suffered tangible loss.  I do not mean hurt feelings.

Finally, you will be relieved to hear that the quality of your work is not put under the microscope.  In the law of copyright the courts protect your work, however lousy it is.  However, if your work stinks, the good news is that you do not have a copyright problem.  Copyright infringers are just too busy I’m afraid. 

© Paul.Brennan 2006. All rights reserved. 

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Paul Brennan, lawyer

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