COPYRIGHT AND HOW DO YOU PROTECT IT?
by Craig Lock
INTRODUCTION AND AUTHOR'S COMMENT:
This article (which is an extract from the writing course I ran
at the local polytechnic was developed about seven 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 explain in this
With these guidelines we can all do our bit to bring some order
into the "lawlessness" prevalent in copying other people's work
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
* 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 150 words from a
magazine article. Fifty (50) words quoted from a news- paper
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
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!
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. 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 (nice long word that), 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 easist 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
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 "crazy/wacky style of hopefully informing and entertaining
at the same time". (That is my mission in my writings, btw!)
Anyway, isn't "imitation the sincerest form of flattery"?
P.S: 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
"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
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 even less).
That's why writers have to do things DIFFERENTLY to merely
survive. Time to get a "proper job" and avoid the soup kitchen,
About the author: Craig Lock is an author of numerous books and the
of the "original" online writing course:
Check out a great new writer's resource at
The various books that Craig "felt inspired to write" are
P.S: Don't worry about the world ending today... it's already
tomorrow in "little" scenic and tranquil New Zealand
THIS ARTICLE MAY BE FREELY PUBLISHED.