I’ve had a few queries recently on this blog about copyright so I thought it was time I found out a bit more about it myself. Basically, in terms of being a submitting writer, you don’t have to worry about copyright. There is nothing to register – as soon as you write something, you own the copyright. You don’t even need to state this anywhere on your pages. When your work is published, you still own the copyright – you have agreed to allow someone else to publish your work in a certain format on a certain occasion, but the copyright stays with you. If you are asked to sign away copyright, think carefully about it. If your flash fiction piece goes viral you may regret it.
Your copyright remains yours until 70 years after your death, after which time anyone can reproduce your work without fear of being sued. (Although they may still be accused of plagiarism – passing off another writer’s words as their own.) Similarly you don’t have the right to type out a page of your favourite author’s novel and put it on your blog in order to rave about it. You can, however, quote a couple of lines as long as you attribute them correctly to the author. This is known as ‘fair dealing’ and you will see it often in reviews. When the 70 years have passed you can then do as you will, which is why you can download most of the classics free on to your e-reader, thanks to the kind souls who have created digital versions of them.
If you want to be more active about protecting your copyright, you can send a copy of your manuscript to yourself. Use registered post and then store the unopened manuscript when it arrives in a safe place with the receipt. Personally I’ve only ever done this once, and I have no idea where I stored the manuscript. I don’t think it’s necessary but it makes some people feel better.
I won’t go into the contract stage at this point, but will just say that if you are given an contract, don’t sign it until you completely understand it and are happy – seek advice, or join The Society of Authors.
I gleaned the useful advice about from The Writers’ Guide to Getting Published by Chriss McCallum. It’s a great all-round guide to starting out seriously in the writing business.