What do I need to know about copyright and publishers' licenses?
Copyright lies at the heart of publishing and writing. As publishing's rights and copyright expert Lynette Owen, writes in Selling Rights 'The publishing industry is inextricably linked to the existence and recognition of copyright.
Without copyright it is doubtful whether the majority of authors would have the incentive to be creative.'
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out the key
principles of UK copyright law. Charles Clark, quoted in
Clarks' Publishing Agreements, summarises them as follows:
'The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 performs the four "bedrock" roles of modern copyright legislaton - to establish the rights of authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; to establish the rights of those who invest, financially and creatively, in the works of
authors; to balance the rights of such copyright owners with the needs of
copyright users; and to protect the rights of copyright owners in both civil
and criminal law.'
Key developments since then include the Database Right (which offers limited
protection for 15 years) and the Publication Right (which deals with previously
unpublished works in which copyright has expired).
The huge technological changes of the last fifteen years or so - the growth of the
internet and digital forms of delivery - have radically changed the way content is
delivered, making copyright protection more important than ever.
Although there is no copyright in an idea, copyright in your writing is
yours automatically (unless you are a journalist writing as part of your job), and remains so
for seventy years after your death.
The granting a publisher a license to publish is typically for the same period as copyright - ie
life of the author + seventy years, although some agents argue for limited licenses.
Clark's Publishing Agreements notes that 'the emphasis has moved
away from agreeing limited-term licenses except in extraordinary cases to a much greater
awareness of the value of strict termination provisions.'
The conditions for termination are usually related to a book still being in print. However, the rise of
audio and digital forms of publishing, along with print-on-demand, means that the definition of
being in print is more complicated than it was. Page 56 of Clark's Publishing
Agreements deals with this point in detail.
The Society of Authors website includes an FAQ on copyright and gives the following advice:
- When submitting material to your publisher, always include a copyright line, in the form of
c [your name] + [year].
- Establish proof of when your work was created by putting a copy in a sealed, dated envelope and depositing it with a bank or solicitor - or even by posting it to yourself and storing it in a safe place.
- When submitting material, always send it to a specific person - not just 'Commissioning Editor'- say that all rights in it are yours, that you are showing it to them in confidence and you would be pleased to discuss terms it they are interested in publishing it.
- Always send a copy, not the original.
- It is quite common for TV producers to refuse to sign Non- Disclosure Agreements - their argument being that they see so many of the same ideas in commissioning rounds and we recommend sending work in to TV companies that have signed up to the Code of Practice for Submission of Programme Proposals.
The Booktrust and Publishers Association
websites both include sections on copyright, and The Society of Authors publish leaflets on various aspects of copyright law (free to members, £2 to non-members).