Saturday, 20 November 2010


Over at the blog How Publishing Really Works, Jane Smith has declared it Copyright Day and has asked people to blog about it. So I am!

I feel very strongly about copyright. Put simply, what you write is yours regardless of what anyone else thinks unless you have specifically given away your copyright. If you write a letter to a friend, that's copyright. If you write a shopping list, that's copyright too. If you write an article and sell it to a newspaper who put it up on the web, that's also copyright even though it's freely available to read and print off.

Jane's declaration of Copyright Day came about because someone at a magazine in the US didn't realise there was a difference between being publicly available, and in the public domain. Public domain is when an author has specifically chosen to give away their copyright. The magazine editor was copying and using previously published articles without consulting (or paying) the authors. What happened next is on Jane's blog and so I'm not going to cover it here.

It is important to maintain copyright because without it, no author will ever get paid. Why would anyone pay when they could help themselves to the material for free? I feel particularly narked when people who are on salaries complain about paying for material, saying that writers should feel grateful that their work is being read. (This was one of the magazine editor's excuses for why they weren't paying writers.)

Well, hello? Plumbers won't work for the thrill of fixing your cistern, and the garage doesn't give petrol away for the hell of it. Writers have bills to pay too, just like everybody else on the planet. Copyright maintains writers. Support it.

If you want to know more about copyright, go to How Publishing Really Works. Nicola Morgan has also done a good blog post explaining the ins and outs of the law.


Nadia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nadia said...

Hi Sarah,
Great post - I agree 100 percent. I'm a journalist (and aspiring author!) and I come across articles I've written with alarming frequency while surfing the Net. I've only ever been asked to sign one copyright agreement with a publisher (it was that, or not get the work), no one else has ever bothered. This type of infringement - is a huge problem for jobbing writers like myself nowadays because editors are taking the easy option of cobbling something together in-house (often with untrained and underpaid staffers) rather than commissioning professional writers. And if you do make a fuss about this (and late payments) you often find yourself out of work soon after.
I actually hope the Judith Griggs story prompts a debate about editorial standards and 'churnalism' in general because there are an awful lot of publishers around making money out of an unknown writer's hard work.
By the way, I've blogged on this too. :o)

Sarah Duncan said...

I hadn't realised it was so endemic in journalism - but not surprised. I am getting fed up with writing stories for magazines that used to pay but now won't, on the grounds that I'm getting publicity.

Salaried staff seem to have a particular blindness that lets them brush aside the fact that freelancers live on the money they get paid for their work.

Nadia said...

Yes, I certainly consider it an issue within journalism - mainly because decreasing salaries have led to a lot of untrained people taking on some pretty senior roles on publications and websites (something that would have been unthinkable a few years back).
I believe in meritocracy, but I don't think today's industry is necessarily indicative of that - I think it simply shows a notable lack of regulation.
I think that any publisher looking to make money from readers and advertisers should certainly be required to show that staff have been trained in areas such as media law. Such moves would automatically afford writers greater protection and perhaps restore a bit of the respect writers have lost over the years.
I know I sound like some bitter and twisted harridan, but I really feel that a multitude of issues such as copyright infringement/plagiarism/free copy demands etc all stem from a lack of respect for writing and the fact that it is a profession like any other. People have grown too used to taking advantage of individuals who simply love to write - or are trying to make a name for themselves. From your post, I can see that you have direct experience of this.

Sarah Duncan said...

Thinking about it, have met several people who've done unpaid work experience at magazines - 6 month stints or more - who then ask for paid work and are shown the door.

An illustrator friend turned down some work - would have taken 3-4 months, he was offered £2000. Agent furious, publisher blacklisted him. Worrying times...