The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of writers and other professionals working primarily in the arts are generally referred to as copyright and as such are enshrined in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. There have been a number of amendments to that many of which have implemented various European Directives.
Once a text has been fixed in the sense that it has been published it is automatically protected by copyright. There is absolutely no need to pay for the services of one of the many unofficial copyright registers which have appeared in recent years. Copyright is free in the UK and indeed most of the developed world and there are no forms to complete because there is no official registration system. All that is required is that you insert in the front matter of your book a standard copyright declaration which must include the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year in which the work was created.
Definition of Literary Work
Literary work is defined in Section 3(1) of the 1988 Act as, ‘literary work means any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung’. This includes books and manuals, computer programmes, databases, examination papers and business letters.
Your name, the title of a book or a slogan or phrase cannot be protected by copyright although it might be possible to register these as a trademark. There is absolutely no copyright related to facts, news or information. Similarly an idea cannot be protected until it has some tangible expression which for an author would be some form of published work.
It is not the idea that is protected but the form in which it is expressed. Furthermore the specific typography of your written work – unless you self-publish – is vested in the publisher and lasts for twenty-five years from the end of the year in which the edition was published. If a publisher allows the rights of a text to revert to you (the author) they are likely to put in writing something to the effect that, ‘copyright in the typography and page design remains with us and may only be used with our permission’.
An orphan work describes the situation where a book is out of print but the publisher cannot be traced because they have ceased trading. It is theoretically possible to reprint such a book or use the material but that would be contrary to copyright law. The book is in effect orphaned without its parent copyright holder. There have been numerous instances where surviving publishers of books that are out of print fail to respond to a letter from authors asking for the rights to revert to them. Some authors have responded by writing a letter giving the publisher a time limit beyond which they (the author) consider the publisher to no longer hold any right to the book. Such action might not survive legal proceedings.
To address the problem of orphan works the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (2013) was passed as an amendment to the 1988 Act. This aims to establish a statutory licensing scheme for orphan works which will in effect allow an author to make use of such a work if they can prove they have carried out a detailed search for the original copyright holder.
Length of Copyright
In the UK copyright lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years beyond their death. If a work has joint authors then the seventy years begins from the death of the last to die.
Most countries including all of western Europe, the USA and Russia have signed the Berne Convention, which ensures that copyright does not stop at national borders. If a book is protected by copyright in the UK then it has the same protection in any country that is a signatory to the convention.
Something that you should do with your completed work is place it in a package, seal it very carefully and write the title and date on the package. Now post the package back to yourself by recorded delivery. When it arrives do not open it but place it somewhere secure. While such action does not provide complete proof that you are the author it will be very useful if the right should ever be subject to legal action.
Protecting your copyright gives you the opportunity to exploit your work commercially other than by selling it. As the author the copyright allows you to make a charge for the use of material from your work and to receive payment via PLR for books placed in a public library.
Respecting the Copyright of Others
There is absolutely no point in protecting your work if you do not respect the copyright of others. There are occasions when writers carelessly or inadvertently use the work of others but really this should not happen. There can rarely be a need even in nonfiction to ‘lift’ large sections of text from other works but if a paragraph or two really is pivotal seek permission and always assume that the absence of a reply means no. To assume otherwise would be courting disaster.
It is simply wrong to use the work of others without permission. It is wrong in law and wrong on a personal level. If and when you do receive permission you will almost certainly receive instructions as to how the material is to be acknowledged and if you do not receive that information you must ask for it. Keep a copy of all letters and emails regarding the copyright permission you are seeking and make a note of all telephone calls including date and time, person spoken to and the detail of the conversation. If in doubt speak to a solicitor and consider reorganising your work so that you do not require the extract concerned.
Very few authors use a trademark but it is very important that as a writer you respect the trademark of others both out of courtesy and because they are protected by law. If you must refer to an individual, group, organisation or object by its trademark be very careful that you do not write anything that can be considered negative. As always, if in doubt, ask.
It is very important to respect the rights and personal feelings of any living individuals about whom you intend to write. Although privacy laws in the UK are relatively weak compared with those of France and some other countries you must be aware that you could find yourself in court if you write something offensive, disclose secrets or write anything that could be construed as an invasion of privacy. Above all you should seek to act in a decent manner and always consider the feelings of the individual, their family and friends.
When writing about living individuals, groups or organisations you need to be aware of the libel laws. Common sense should keep you out of trouble if you keep in mind that what you write must be true, accurate and backed by facts. If you are writing something negative then you really need to ask yourself if it is necessary and must if at all possible give the other party an opportunity to put their side of the story.
Terms and Conditions
As a self-publisher terms and conditions are most likely to be of concern when entering a contract with a distribution platform such as Createspace of Lulu. While the copyright of the work will remain in your hands you may well find that the detail of the terms and conditions restricts your role in the marketing of your work. It is very important that for once you read the T&C very carefully and do not enter into an agreement about which you have any doubts.