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Copyright Basics

In order to protect your work, you should copyright it. The owner of the copyright on a given work has the exclusive right to reproduce or resell it. While it does not prevent others from profiting from your efforts, the copyright gives you legal standing to sue unauthorized users of your work and to seek monetary damages from them.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind about copyrights:
  • In general, U.S. copyright law presumes that the author retains the copyright unless he (she) signs a document that explicitly surrenders it. It doesn't hurt, though, to put " 2004 by Jane Smith" (for example) on your submissions, just to be sure that there is no doubt.
  • When writing for small publications that pay little or nothing for an article, you should expect not to surrender the copyright. Instead, you should keep ownership of the article and try to resell it to other publications, subject to reasonable terms and conditions (for example, the first publisher may expect a brief period of exclusive use).
  • Larger publications that pay more serious fees ($1 per word, or more) may want to obtain the exclusive copyright. You must decide whether they are paying you enough to give up all your chances of reselling the work elsewhere. The phrase "Work for Hire" is often used to describe this situation.
  • When you engage in business writing (including writing for non-profits), expect whatever you write to be a work for hire.
  • Many major corporations require employees to sign a waiver that gives the corporation ownership of any inventions or writings that the employee may produce during the course of his (her) employment. Generally, corporations rarely enforce these terms, unless the freelancing or inventing is directly related to the company's line of business

  • Consider seeking legal advice about a waiver if: (a) if you seem poised to earn significant money from your freelancing, (b) if your writing is industry-related, (c) if it draws on experience at your company, or (d) your relationship with your employer is strained.

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