Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Copyright and the Writer

Copyright law protects our work and protects the work of others who may have written something we'd like to use in a blog or article. We need to know the law. Today, Cara Putman gives us an explanation of copyright and how it affects writers. -- Sandy

Cara: As an attorney who also writes, I often get asked about different legal issues that writers run into as they write. One of those issues is copyrights. So what are they? Copyrights are a property interest in the books, songs, poems, art, etc. that you create. The government has decided that it values the creation of art, and giving the creator a property right – or way to make money on what they create – encourages the creation of more books, poems, and other forms of art.

As writers, we care because we are creating art but also because we sometimes use other people’s creations in our works. Currently, copyrights in the United States last for the life of the creator plus 70 years. That is why you will see estates still managing the copyrights after the author has died. For example, the C.S. Lewis estate chose who would make the movies and how the rights to the Chronicles of Narnia would be and continue to be licensed. Not all of us create works with the staying powers of a Lewis or Tolkein – but we can dream!

By registering your copyright with the US Copyright office, you are putting the world on notice that you have a copyright to your work, but you do not need to do that. You have a copyright just by writing/creating your art. The Copyright office has a great website that can help you go through the process of registering a copyright: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdfa and http://www.copyright.gov/forms/

One side note: you can’t copyright a title. It’s not uncommon to find similar or identical titles on books or other artworks. That doesn’t matter. It’s the content itself that is copyrighted.

But what if you want to use something that is copyrighted in your book? What do you need to do? You will need to contact the copyright holder for permission and make sure you allow time because it can take a long time to go through all the steps to get permission. But if a work is no longer protected (it’s been more than 70 years after the creator’s death), then the work has moved into the public domain and anyone can use it. That is one reason you see dozens of remakes of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s copyright protection expired years ago, so now anyone can use her premise and reprint her books.

Copyrights are complex. There is much more we could discuss. If you have further questions, be sure to consult the copyright office website (Http://www.copyright.gov) or consult an attorney who practices in the area.


Have you ever run into copyright issues with your work? Any questions about what is legal and what isn't?


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Cara C. Putman graduated high school at 16, college at 20, and completed her law degree at 27. An award-winning author of seventeen books with more on the way, she is active in women's ministry at her church and is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. Putman is currently pursuing her Master’s in Business Administration at Krannert. She serves on the executive board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization she has served in various roles since 2007. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana. You can connect with her online at:
Purchase links:

About the book:
Rachel Justice is desperate to save her dying mother. She doesn’t want to leave her, but she accepts her newspaper’s assignment to travel to Italy and photograph war images. No one knows her photography is a cover and that Rachel is really seeking to find the father she never knew, hopeful to get some help with her failing mother. Dedicated to her mission, Rachel is focused on completing it. Soon, though, she finds her priorities and plans changing when she is assigned to Lt. Scott Lindstrom, on mission as a Monument Man. Their meeting will have far-reaching consequences. Will this derail her plans? Will she ever find her father? Is her faith enough to carry her through?


11 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Our pleasure, Cara. I think we all need a reminder occasionally of how copyright works. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

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  2. I've heard that emailing your work to yourself is a good practice, not only to backup your work, but to establish a timeline if your work is stolen.

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    1. Hadn't thought of that, Angie. If I email it to myself, I usually delete it after I add more.

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  3. I'm curious about your thoughts on trademarks. I've heard differing opinions (ranging from you do need permission to use them to the trademark is only a suggestion of how a company wants you to label a product in your story). My publisher avoids the use of trademarks entirely.

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    1. The default rule is to use them positively and you should be okay. Some publishers choose not to use them at all to be 100% safe.

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    2. Great info here, Cara. I was curious about this, too. Thanks for sharing!

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    3. Thanks for the reply. I'm going to share this with my writing group at church! :)

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  4. Thanks Cara for the post. Very interesting and beneficial for newbies like me. Your book looks great!

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