A word (or two) on Copyright

by Doc Coleman on December 27, 2012 · 0 comments

in Asides

Today I finished a book that was recommended to me by J. Daniel Sawyer a long time ago. I think the actual recommendation was on an episode of the Galley Table almost two years ago. Dan is an author and screenwriter who has been around the block for a while. Having come at writing from the screenwriting side of things, he has a good practical view of the business of writing. And let’s face it, there are a lot more people out there who will tell you how to write than there are telling you how to not get ripped off as a writer. While it is imperitive to be able to turn out a good product, you can’t be a good writer unless you can manage the business side of things. And the business side of things is where this book comes in…

The book in question is The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know by Steven Fishman and published by Nolo press. Nolo is a company that has been built around explaining the American legal system in plain English so that everyday citizens can get a fair shake. As the title says, this book is specifically aimed at writers. If you ever intend to write and get paid for it, you want to pick up a copy of this book. If you’ve ever been tempted to write in someone else’s world without permission, this book lets you know what laws you’re breaking and what your risk is.

The book covers what Copyright is and isn’t, how to assert your copyright on a work, how to register your copyright and why you should bother, what copyright protects, where copyright originates and how rights can be transferred in whole or in part, how long copyright protection lasts, and how to handle copyright infringement, both as the plaintiff and the defendant. In addition there is a lot of good, practical advice for a writer for negotiating with agents and publishers, and making sure you don’t give away more rights than you have to.

This book is valuable and essential, but it is a reference book. You can read it straight through. I just did. Steven Fishman does a pretty good job of keeping the subject matter as interesting as possible, and provides plenty of good examples to illustrate the points of law he’s talking about. But it is copyright law, which, let’s face it, is pretty dry. It won’t put you to sleep, but if you read it straight through, it will take a long time. Included with the hardcopy book is a CD-ROM with examples of various forms and letters outlined in the book. These include copyright forms for registering your work, and sample letters for transferring rights, asking for permission to use copyrighted work, and telling an infringer to cease and desist.

A lot of people these days have misconceptions of what copyright is and what it does. This book is a good way to set yourself straight.

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