Source: Law For Writers
writen and originally published by J S Malpas [Word Exact]
Law For Writers
OCTOBER 23, 2015 4 COMMENTS
Writing can be a serious business once the ideas have flowed to their conclusion and the ink has dried on the page. Your writing has value even if you aren’t selling it. Readers get enjoyment from it and even a free short story can enhance a writer’s reputation.
But, as with anything else of value, writing is subject to threats and risk. It can lead to theft, fraud, exploitation and exposure of the author. Society has laws that aim to protect its members from such risks. That includes you, the writer. The law can also work against you if you aren’t familiar with it or choose to ignore it.
One thing which has defined writers throughout history is that they push the boundaries, as creative types often do. Some have even been imprisoned, fined or sued for what they have written. Here is a general guide to the key principles you should be aware of. Not legal advice, but words of caution from one writer to another.
Here’s a concept that might throw you at first, but it’s easy to grasp once explained. “The Law” doesn’t really exist. How can that be true?
There is no universal set of laws governing writers (except for moral laws, which can be all too easily set aside for increased profit or reputation). This has become an even greater problem since the advent and global advance of the internet.
What do you do if you’re a freelancer in Hong Kong and your work is stolen by another writer in Berlin? You could report it to your local police force, but they are unlikely to get an extradition order for the theft of a 300 word article. Perhaps you could sue, but in which court? Can you afford an international lawsuit?
The reality is that if the above does happen, you’ll probably be left with few options. We’ll discuss how you can protect your work below. What is important to realise is that each country has its own set of laws which will be different from those of another nation. Some legal systems actively protect freedom of speech (therefore writers), others do little to safeguard their work, and some actively seek to repress it.
Be careful that what you write doesn’t break your country’s laws and be careful of where you publish it.
When you agree to write for someone in return for money, that is a contract. Contracts can be written or oral. Check which country’s laws apply to that contract (jurisdiction). If your client refuses to pay for what you provide, this could affect whether you can do anything about it.
How is your writing protected? If you have created an original work (be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, news report or blog article) it should be protected by copyright. We’ll discuss what that means in a moment. First, how do you get copyright?
Here the issue of jurisdiction (different laws in different places) returns. In most countries a writer will have automatic copyright as soon as the original work is created. There is no need to file paperwork or patents. But there are some countries where you have to actively obtain copyright for your writing. Check your national copyright laws for the rules that apply to you.
What does copyright do? You’ve created an original article, book, poem or report. That means you now have the “exclusive right” to its use and distribution. Here’s what that means:
You have the right to… and the right to stop others from…
Use and distribution:
Making copies of or adapting that work; OR
Giving (selling or gifting), lending , performing/showing, or communicating copies of that work (to the public).
For example: you have the right to copy and sell your original novel. You also have the right to stop an unauthorised person from copying and selling your original novel. These rights are enforced by you taking that person to court and suing them (to reclaim money you have lost or to prevent the theft continuing).
There is a problem and by now you can probably guess what it is. In our earlier example, a Hong Kong freelancer’s copyright was breached by a writer in Berlin. International theft of this nature is common on the internet.
Not all countries’ laws will protect copyright in the way described above. The rules will vary and your country’s copyright law does not extend beyond the border. Our Hong Kong freelancer will be relying on German laws to protect his rights.
In some countries, it isn’t only the writer who can sue the person who stole his work. The thief may also be prosecuted under that nation’s criminal laws. This is very important because of the other side of copyright infringement that we haven’t looked at yet.
You will be in breach of copyright if you act as the owner of another person’s original work. This could involve doing any of the things mentioned above. Be aware of the legal implications as they exist in your country and respect others’ creativity.
You don’t just want to know what your rights are and how they can be broken. How can you protect yourself against copyright theft? This is a problem for anyone who cannot afford an international lawsuit or whose work isn’t considered “important” enough to justify extradition of the culprit.
Writers have to publish their work (making it public in print or online form) to make money and build their reputation. So you can’t hide your work. What can you do?
If you scroll up to the sub-heading for this section you will see a familiar symbol. It looks like this: © and is usually followed by some combination of “copyright” – creator’s name – year – “all rights reserved”. Why do we see that symbol so often? You’ve just read that copyright is usually automatic, the © symbol doesn’t create any extra right.
What it does is serve as a warning. It not only reminds the viewer that the work is protected by law, but it states that the owner cares about protecting their work. This means that they are more likely to take action if their work is stolen. That warning could put off a potential copyright thief.
You might notice that there is no copyright warning at the bottom of this article. Why haven’t I included one? There are two reasons. Firstly, I feel uncomfortable giving my readers a “warning”. Secondly, I take other effective measures to avoid (if not prevent) theft.
What I Do:
I publish my work on a platform that I trust. This means that those who read it will likely be bloggers, writers or business-persons with a professional attitude towards copyright.
I don’t publish on social media, only use it to publicize my writing. What’s the difference? I will share a link, description or extract, but not the work itself. On social media, it is a lot harder to control who sees your writing, copies it and passes it off as their own.
Occasionally I copy & paste an extract into a search engine. This will show you the original piece and any unauthorised copies, as well as the most similar results.
If you see your work published under another writer’s name, don’t feel like there is nothing you can do. Contact the publisher or host website and inform them of their obligation to remove it. Don’t ask them, tell them. That work is your property. If they refuse then you should contact the website or publisher’s local authority for copyright enforcement. The positive side of the internet is that it makes communicating easier, so don’t be afraid to use it to enforce your rights internationally.