Copyright for Freelancer Writers

Copyright for Freelancer Writers

Copyright is essentially the legal act of protecting someone’s original creation. It is closely related to the concept of protection of property: if you buy a car, for example, it becomes your property and the law views it as such. In the same way, if you hold the copyright of something, in the eyes of the law no one has the right to use it without your explicit consent. If used without permission, it is an act of theft, just as stealing a car would be. This type of legal protection is necessary to protect other freelancers and individuals from piracy and plagiarism of a writer’s work. Copyright can be bought and sold, transferred from writer to client, or given up altogether but it is a basic, fundamental right for all freelance writers and is an important part of freelance writing.

History of Copyright

George Washington established the first recorded copyright law in America in 1790. The terms of copyright in the late 1700’s were that the creator obtained the copyright for the work for 14 years. It could then be renewed once for an additional 14 years, if desired.

The idea behind such a limited amount of time in Washington’s era was that 14 years was plenty of time for a creator to have achieved success with the copyrighted work and to have created the next best thing to profit on. Today, standard copyright protection is even longer.  Most copyrighted items are protected for a span of 70 years after the creator has died. If a corporation maintains the copyright of the piece of work then it is protected for either 120 years from the creation date or 95 years after it has been officially published – whichever of the two options is shorter.

Use of Copyright

There is no copyright protection for an idea. It has to be a completed work of creation that is free of infringing on the copyright of any other individual. While there are certainly legal processes to be followed to obtain a copyright for a unique piece of writing, it is not necessary to protect a writer from copyright infringement. A simple “Copyright Ó (year) (your name or company name). All rights reserved.” This statement is enough to protect a freelance writer’s work. This is an exclusive copyright meaning that the freelancer owns all rights to the work and others may not use the work for any purpose without the creator’s permission.

Freelancing and Copyright

The American Congress decided to amend the copyright law in that late 70’s with a clause that affects freelance creators. This clause states that the freelancer can maintain copyright unless the creation is a “work made for hire.” The irony is that most freelance work is done for hire. This one clause creates a loophole for clients to withhold payments and royalties from freelancers. Court battles ensue over who has rights to freelance work, the author or the creator.

This makes it essential to obtain a detailed contract before beginning freelance work. The contract should spell out clearly the cost of the preliminary work, the final submission, the royalty structure, and the ability to use the work in your portfolio to promote more business.

Creative Commons

Of course, each project will have its own set of uses and copyright rules. Because a one size fits all type of copyright is not appropriate in all situations, the Creative Commons licensing option was created. Creative Commons gives freelance writers even more control over who can use the work, how it can be used, and the limitations of its use.

Under creative commons, there are different types of copyright options. A commercial use license means that the freelancer gives others permission to copy, distribute or perform the work – even for commercial purposes. A non-commercial use license gives users the ability to copy and distribute the work but only if no money is to be made. Some licenses allow for users to distribute the work as long as it remains unchanged. Others let users redo, remix or change the work for non-commercial purposes. Some of the creative commons licenses require that users credit the original author and others do not. Having different copyright licensing options gives a freelancer more options when it comes to sharing their work with others.

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