Article Title: What is Copyright and How Do You Protect It? (from Online Creative Writing Course)
Author: Craig Lock
Category (key words): Writing, Copyright, Creative Writing, Writing Hints/Tips, Writing Course
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We hope that the following article, which is an extract from our online creative writing course) may be informative and helpful to your e-zine
readers, or on your web site. If it helps others "out there" in any way, then we're happy.

"We share what we know, so that we all may grow."




This article (originally part of the writing course I ran at the local polytechnic and developed about twelve years ago) was written for the "OFFLINE and real world" here in New Zealand and the United Kingdom... well before I knew about the "amazing intricate mysteries of the net". However, I believe, the principles should also be applied (perhaps not so stringently) to the "Wild West of cyberspace". (That's a metaphor, by the way!).
The article covers general principles of copyright and may also be applied world-wide in writing for the www, "metinks"...

Publishing on the world wide web (writing articles on your field of expertise is a most effective form of internet marketing, incidentally!) is very different to the "real world". In the online "wild west culture" standard copyright rules are far harder to enforce, as the subject of copyright is constantly evolving and rapidly changing, like the "net" itself. It appears that on the www virtually "anything goes" with many varied opinions and it's very hard to get common rulings and agreement on this complex issue.

My advice would be to apply the same "strict" rules regarding copyright, when writing online as offline, as I'll try to explain in this article.

With these guidelines we can all do our bit to bring some order into the "lawlessness" prevalent in copying other people's work on the www. By following these guidelines, I'm sure no-one will be able to criticise "sqeaky clean you". After that "rather rambling rose pre-amble", enough said...

Only joking! Here is my article...



What is copyright? No one can reproduce your work with- out your permission - not even a personal letter. How much of a writer's work can be legitimately used? A poem of 40-50 words is generally considered to be OK. Usually one is not allowed to copy substantial amounts of another writer's work without their express permission.

* But then what is meant by the word "substantial"? It is widely open to interpretation and opens up a literary and legal "minefield" (that's a metaphor, by the way!).

There are no hard and fast guidelines about the rule of copy- right. The following is a rough 'rule of thumb':

You can take approximately 300 words from a book or any other lengthy work of writing. You can also quote WHAT IS COPYRIGHT AND HOW DO YOU PROTECT IT (from Online Creative Writing 150 words from a magazine article. Fifty (50) words quoted from a newspaper article is generally considered to be "fair use" without requiring either permission or a fee. Copyright lasts 50 years after your death.

You can use what is termed 'fair dealing' in writing reports, or research material. I always advise acknowledging sources in your reference section.

It's all very unclear - the entire subject of copyright; so I won't say too much. Just use your common sense and discretion (if you have some)... and be HONEST by following your heart. Don't copy other author's material and purport (nice word, eh?) to be the author. One should not paraphrase a substantial amount of another author's writing, nor use that writer's points without due ACKNOWLEDGMENT. Hint hint! That's known as plagiarism and is the subject of another article.

I think INTENTION and INTEGRITY are key guidelines to follow in potential breaches of copyright. I find these principles are most helpful in directing me to avoid potential hazards in the area of copyright.

"If you have integrity, nothing else matters.
If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters."
- Alan K. Simpson

If you get into a dispute (oops!), there are specialised trade and copyright laywers (or solicitors as they call them here in 'genteel and civilised' NZ) in the big centres. If in doubt, get advice...then DON'T infringe copyright.

Send requests to use material to the permissions editor of a magazine, newspaper or book publisher. Book publishers usually have a small department, which deals solely in this. Give them as much information as possible about your article or book, your publisher, as well as other books or articles written by you. Tell them what quotes you want to use and why... and so on. Say you will give them due acknowledgement in your writing. They'll usually oblige (if you ever hear from them - in my experience you hardly ever do!). There is sometimes a small fee payable. Always acknowledge the sources of your quotations - then you've kept your word, your side of the "bargain". Also keep copies of your correspondence in the event of an unlikely dispute.

Now a bit for Kiwis* (and Brits)... * = New Zealanders, but the Kiwi is a flightless bird, in case you are interested...
No one can reproduce your work without your permission. New Zealand law closely follows British law. In NZ copyright is usually protected for 50 years after the author's death. If a book is published posthumously (a nice big word that - must try to use it more often), copyright extends for 75 years after the time of the author's death. After that the work can be freely used by anyone. No hope for me then... but perhaps my great great grandchildren!

As from 1989, New Zealand copyright law requires 3 copies of every NZ publication to go to the National Library in Wellington. One of which goes to the Alexander Turnbull Library, one to the National Library for bibliographical purposes, while the third is kept at the Parliamentary Library in the capital in Wellington.

The following is a simple tip on the easiest way to register copyright. Send a letter to yourself by registered mail, in which you certify that you are the author of the work. Keep in a safe place. If you really want, you could lodge the unopened letter with your bank or lawyer (solicitor) for safekeeping, but I wouldn't say that option is necessary. I'd just keep the letter with my personal documents, proving ownership of your writing. (While you are about it, you could perhaps send some Christmas or birthday cards to yourself, or like me, join "Rent-a-Friend").
Enough silly digression, now Craig and back to the boring subject of copyright (you are nearly finished pouring forth)...

Sometimes a publisher might want copyright in exchange for a fee. My advice: It's YOUR work of art. So always retain your copyright... unless you are in dire financial straits, like this aspiring writer*.

In the next lesson (and article) we will look at the subject of plagiarism . Wow, that's a big word and I hope I spelt it correctly. No, I don't mind you using my material...even though it may be quite hard for another "writer" to closely copy my rather "light/crazy/wacky style of hopefully informing and entertaining at the same time". (That is my mission in my writings, btw so hope I have succeeded with that intent in this article!). Anyway, isn't "imitation the sincerest form of flattery"??

Happy writing

Craig Lock (Eagle Productions Books)

"Plagiarism occurs, when someone else steals your work.
When many people do, it's called research!"

After getting so far with this "rather heavy and quite boring subject, time for a dash of humour as a reward... at the expense of my "chosen occupation"...

"I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this."
- Cormac McCarthy

What's the definition of an aspiring author?
A waiter!

* What's the difference between a writer and a family pizza? The family pizza can feed a rather hungry family of three ... or ONE starving writer writing away in his garret munching on a carrot!

I see the average American writer earns an average of $7500 per year (and New Zealanders, or Kiwi writers probably far less than that).

That's why writers have to do things DIFFERENTLY to merely survive. Perhaps then time to get a "proper job" and avoid the soup kitchen, Craig!

... but then some of us DO love writing -
it's just something we HAVE to do with our lives.

"If you have knowledge, let others light a candle to it."
- Margaret Fuller

"They say that if enough chimpanzees were put in front of enough word processors for enough time, eventually one of them would write Hamlet."

Author's Bio: 

About the author:
Craig likes (rather loves) to share knowledge and insights from his life experiences with dashes of humour to try and help others in 'every little way' he can...
without being too much of a "Mr goody-goody boring" two shoes"(as he's lost the other one). Craig loves writing; but then what other job would be suitable for him!

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Craig's blog (with extracts from his various writings: articles, books and new manuscripts) is at and