How to write a book,  Projects,  Writing

Copyright issues

The lovely Janine Ripper requested the low down on copyright issues for writers.


Here it is as succinctly as I can put it:

1) Anything you write whether it is recorded on paper or on disk or on the internet in a blog, as soon as you write it, is copyrighted to you. As soon as your work takes on a tangible form, it is copyrighted to you. Automatically.

If you write under a pseudonym, the copyright is extended for 70 years after the moment it was first created especially if they cannot figure out the identity of the author.  Otherwise, it is 70 years after the date of your death.

So if I write as D. Mize  and no one can figure out it is me, then D. Mize gets total control over the work and all rights until 2011 +70 years which is 2081. If they do know it’s me then I and my heirs/estate have total control over the work from the day I die +70 years so if I died in 2051 then they have control until 2121. If I have a will stating the copyright gets passed down, then it keeps going forever.

So when in doubt make sure your name is on there somewhere. Or that someone knows your identity.

2)  There is no set way to write a copyright notice though this form is usually accepted: the (c) symbol, your name and the date.


Example: (c) Marisa Wikramanayake, 2011. Or: (c) Marisa Wikramanayake, 2009 – 2011.

3) Always get any agreement in writing.

4) A contract consists of four parts:

1) An offer – a publisher offers you a bit of money to publish some of your work.

2) An unconditional acceptance of the offer – if you say “Hey, can you do the marketing and give me say a free copy” that’s a counteroffer. Until both you and the publisher agree on something, it’s not unconditional acceptance.

3) It must be beneficial to all parties – the publisher gets to sell the book, the author gets some income. Some clear benefit to both parties must be apparent.

4) All parties to the contract must agree to make it legal.

5) There are different licenses for rights. Check what is stated in any contract.

1) Exclusive license means you gave them your work and only they get to print it. A publisher will be the only person to publish your book for example during the next ten years including all new editions if it is a bestseller. When you submit a manuscript you also have to tell them if you have submitted it to other publishers for consideration and if they have accepted it.

2) Non exclusive means you offer people the right to use your work in certain way and anyone can use it in a certain way only so long as they inform you and compensate you as agreed. So your article might be reproduced in several publications, unaltered.
3) Implied licenses are where if you write a letter to a publication and they publish, they have an implied right to use that letter as they see fit whether it makes you look bad or not though they cannot defame you. It’s where the circumstances dictate the implied use of the work.
4) First rights (often used in the US) is where you give the publisher the right to publish the article first (and be first with the news etc) but you have to right to sell it on to other places though you do have to inform them if it was published elsewhere.


6) Email communication especially if it is saved several times on servers can be used in court as evidence of contractual agreements. Try to get it in writing but if you can’t, emails can be used as well.

7) If you are writing something and have published snippets on your blog, check with the publication you want to submit the finished work to as to whether they accept works that have had snippets published online. Most publishers won’t accept novels that have more than 10% of their eventual content published online.

Magazines and the like may or may not work differently. It depends on their audience. So your best bet is to pull out the Australian Writer’s Marketplace and call them and ask.

8) You cannot mention brand names (Coca Cola) or certain people (Leonard Woolf) without prior permission. If your work is accepted by a publisher, the contract will state whether it is the writer or the publisher who has to start calling people to ask for permission to use the brand name/name. This is important because you can otherwise get sued and usually the publisher has to foot the bill, if not the writer.

9) You cannot quote others (unless their works are in the public domain – 100 years or so after their death unless their estate lobbies for an extension) without permission. Which is why you are seeing books like “Zombies and Pride and Prejudice” coming out because Austen’s works and those of other writers are now in the public domain and therefore free for people to play with.


10) With family histories, the author of the book gets copyright but depending on whether you notified the people telling you the stories that you were writing a book and their expectations and how you wrote it (did you quote them extensively, write it in their own words etc), they can claim to be a “co-author” and therefore have a claim to copyright.

11) When in doubt, call the publication/publisher if you have a deal in place, talk to your editor or check out the Australian Copyright Council at


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