Copyright is one of the most significant issues for anyone who creates any kind of content, be it a song, a book, or a blog post. For freelance writers, copyright contains a few different areas of concern. You need to protect your own content and understand who owns your content. You also need to avoid violating anyone else’s copyright, whether deliberately or incidentally.
Copyright is not as complex as many people assume. However, it is important to make sure you understand your rights, how to protect yourself, and how to avoid being accused of violating copyrights. Hint: you can’t take someone else’s writing and publish it on your blog without permissions just because you’ve given them a credit. Protect yourself further with this advice.
You don’t have to register a copyright, but doing so can help you.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through a process of applying for a copyright and waiting for paperwork to protect your work. All that is required for copyright protection is that a tangible copy of your work exists. In other words, an idea in your head is not subject to copyright protection. Once you write that idea on a piece of paper, that work is covered by copyright laws.
However, registering a copyright can help. The easiest way to do so is to complete a Form TX online. This is the form for a non-dramatic, literary work, and it provides you with a formal copyright. If you ever end up in court over a copyright claim, this registration can help you prove your case and may result in higher compensation in the case of copyright violations.
Keep in mind that this form currently costs $35 to submit online and $65 to submit by mail. For many freelance writers, paying this fee over and over again is not practical. Generally, if you are going to file for copyright protection, do so with works that are longer and more potentially valuable, such as an eBook or white paper, rather than every blog post you write.
You should be very clear about the kinds of rights you are granting to clients.
It’s important to look closely at any agreement you make with any client to see who owns the copyright to your content. Freelance writing may or may not be work-for-hire. If it’s not, this means that you retain copyright of the work you produce. This allows you to use the same content multiple times, and earn money for it multiple times. The ideal client agreement will state that you are granting the client the right to use the content—usually in a specific geographic region. For example, you may grant a client first use rights in North America, if they are publishing it for the first time, and second use right in North America, if the piece has already been published. However, you are granting them the right to publish it—it does not mean that they own the copyright.
Agreements that say work-for-hire are often not in freelance writers’ best interests. They often include clauses that include you selling the total rights to your work. If you are considering signing a work-for-hire agreement, look for clauses that include things like exclusive digital rights, non-compete clauses, silent partners, or universal rights in perpetuity. With these kinds of deals, you are essentially signing away the full rights to exploit your work in the future without your permission, wherever and whenever they see fit.
Sometimes, signing away your rights in this way can be attractive, as long as the client compensates you accordingly. That compensation should be more than you would receive for a typical piece you create for a client to use rights in a specific territory. In some of these agreements, you may also arrange a flat fee plus a royalty. Your copyright is valuable, so selling it should involve a compensation rate that reflects that.
You can never use another writer’s work without permission.
Sometimes, fellow freelance writers may engage in a shocking amount of plagiarism. This is often due to a misunderstanding of the laws. There simply is never, ever an instance in which you can take someone else’s content and publish it on your own blog or website without the express permission of the author. It does not matter if you provide a link back to the original content or a credit to the author.
When you copy another writer’s work, you take traffic away from their own site, which may be monetized. Saying their name on your own site does not in any way offset this theft of their work, even if you were well-intentioned and hoped to share something that resonated with you. Ask permission, always. This is one of the biggest mistakes new freelance writers make, and it can be a very costly one if someone files a legal complaint against you.
Other forms of copyright violations are more predictable. Of course, you can never take another writer’s work and pass it off on your own. This is the case whether you are delivering a piece for a client or posting something to your own site. Clients often run copy they buy from freelancer writers through a plagiarism checker to find similarities to other content. Getting caught taking other people’s work could end your freelance writing career.
There are tools available to help prevent copyright violations.
A worthwhile business expense for freelance writers is a subscription to one of these plagiarism checking tools. They usually charge you a small fee for automatically scanning your copy and flagging any potentially problematic passages. It is very easy to internalize other people’s words without realizing it and then put them on your own page, assuming they are your thoughts. Checking your own copy before giving it to a client will remove any chance of inadvertently doing just that.
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