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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #8 - Copyright: rent, don't sell

Copyright protected works (see the previous tip for a definition) are known as intellectual property. Intellectual property is a bit like real estate - it can be bought, sold, transferred and inherited, though only with your written permission.

The key thing to remember as a freelance writer is that ideas themselves are not protected but the way ideas are expressed is protected. So if you think of an idea for an article, that isn't protected; when you write it, it is. It's the information you select and the way you arrange it that makes it unique.

When you give someone the right to publish your writing, you are assigning that right temporarily (a bit like renting out your house). As a writer, you'll want to avoid signing away any of your rights permanently. Instead, be clear on what rights you are assigning. First serial rights are normal. This gives the publisher the right to publish your material first in whatever country or region (for example, the UK or US) the rights apply to. Once the material has been published, all rights revert to you. Some publishers will also request online rights and the right to keep your work in an online archive. You'll want to make sure these rights are for a limited period or are non-exclusive, so you can make the most of your material.

A key term to be aware of is moral right. This is the right to be credited as the author (have a byline) and to object to alterations or errors which might damage your reputation (known as derogatory treatment of your work). It also includes the right not to have work falsely attributed to you. In other words, no one should say you wrote something if you didn't.

So what do you do if someone tries to pass off something you've written as their own work? If your copyright has been breached you can take the infringer to court and try to get any offending material seized or destroyed. However, there are two things that could damage your case. The first is if the person commits innocent infringement, which means the person genuinely didn't know you owned the copyright; the second is if you have previously allowed someone to use copyrighted work without complaint. This is known as acquiescence

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