Importance of copyright for writers


For those of us who are trying to make a living by writing books, having a copyright in place is essential to act as a guard from potential piracy, particularly in this digital age which makes it all the more possible, with Kindle and other e-readers on the market. Additionally, the moment a piece of writing or any form of art is formed, it is automatically copyrighted, though in some countries you ought to get your work registered with the C symbol to ensure there’s no hassles.


If you’re a writer and you infringe upon someone’s copyright, even if you do so unwittingly, you may be forced to pay restitution back to the writer who you infringed upon, depending if you profited upon his or her work. You may be able to launch a successful defence, however, based on the fact of your infringement being unwitting.

In certain situations, people are able to use copyrighted material without the express permission of the owner. To give one example, a university professor, while preparing a lesson for his class, uses quotes from a textbook, while attributing the source material.


But if your work has been stolen, wilfully or not, then what steps can you take? What often happens is that after your content has been stolen, others will notice and jump on the stolen content, taking it for themselves, so you may find your content in multiple places across the Internet. You must find a way to contact the webmaster and inform him this is your content, and try to discover where he or she discovered your work originally, and if you’re successful, you may find your way to the original perpetrator. If you manage this, contact him or her and inform the person of what they’ve done, but perhaps it would be wise to leave any aggression out of your message, as some people are ignorant, unaware they’ve committed a wrong. If their response is more bullish and they refuse to yield, you may be forced to take the individual in question to court.


The Berne Convention is a long-standing agreement, going back to 1886, which states that any fixed work is automatically copyrighted in that person’s name, with no need for registration. Since then, 172 states have become part of the Convention, which led me to wonder – who’s not part of it? Well, mostly Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as some tiny Pacific Island nations, like the Solomon Islands and Nauru.

Depending on whether the medium is cinematography, literature, or photography, how long the copyright extends beyond the artist’s death varies. For photography it can start at 25 years from the year the photograph was created, while for cinematography the minimum is 50 years. Once the creator has passed on, the copyrighted work can be passed on to family members, and from then on, be handed down, from generation to generation.

It’s important to differentiate the kind of work that can be copyrighted and those that cannot. Works of fiction, short stories, photography, films, podcasts, music videos, etc. these can be copyrighted. A piece of fashion cannot be copyrighted. An idea, a thought, a concept, cannot.


Australia’s Copyright Act has no registration system, so won’t that leave you exposed should the worst happen, and someone would infringe upon your work? This may lead to a complicated and messy courtroom trial which brings you nothing but pain.

Here it generally takes 70 years for a work of art to enter the public domain, after the creator’s death, however if the work in question was unpublished, that period can stretch indefinitely.


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