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Is it right to copyright?

It is highly likely that most people who, for the first time take on any artistic pursuit, don’t even consider the ramifications of protecting their work

Usually, the reason for this, is that they presume what they are doing has little value in the scope of things. Even if that were so, you cannot presume that any piece of artwork, whether it be music, fine art or literature won’t be of popular interest at some point in time.


One of the first things we would encourage you to do at ASPA is to grab a nondisclosure agreement template and have anyone sign it, particularly before publishing if you wish them to read it. Yes, it definitely seems like overkill but with any artistic project, you have to adapt to what is now commonly referred to as Cathedral thinking. That is thinking many many years ahead of what you are doing now.


Statistically, the chances of everyone’s book becoming world-famous and earning millions are quite low, but think of it this way, some have to be. Some have to be mainstream, some have to be very popular and some will become movies and make a lot of money.


Having been involved in fine arts, music and writing both as a practitioner and within education, I can assure you that there are a few things I have created that someone has not tried to pinch. I once designed strategic solutions, for large numbers of young people out of school which included a 24/7/365 online community. It was a great success and it wasn’t long before others tried to claim it. The meeting in which the debate took place over this ownership included government and council lawyers as well as my initial diagram and proof of copyright way before I even offered it to them.

It was a short meeting.

I recently told a story about a well-known tour operator. I ran a business for some time where we supplied musicals for all the tour operators and that included writing scripts, and music, creating backing recordings, and designing costumes and backdrops. Having given almost the complete production to a company for one year, they decided they couldn’t afford it. By complete coincidence, I went on one of their family holidays with my kids that year, only to see a really bad production of the show I’d written. I didn’t do anything about it, but I use it (still!) to illustrate that no matter how humble you think your work is, it will be of value to somebody.


So how do you copyright work?

With the advent of the Internet, this has changed quite dramatically. Years ago, if you wrote the lyrics to a song, it was enough to put it in an envelope, seal it and post it to yourself. The date on the postage was proof of its originality and I was informed that it would be enough to stand up in court. Doing it properly meant involving either lawyers or companies that would secure copyright for you. When I did this for the above business, it cost me a fortune. Now there are companies online that offer cheap annual subscriptions and I’ve had one now for 20 years, ‘copyright house.’ Every time I create something new, I make sure all the versions are uploaded and they gave me a certificate with a date and the name of that piece of work.


And many other considerations go along with this. Most of you wouldn’t even think about what’s going to happen to your work after you have passed away, but at my age, I think about it quite often. I also presume that it will be relatively worthless, no one will be marketing it and it doesn’t matter. But who knows? It is always worth assigning rights to whoever you want to have them and then there is no conflict about ownership when you are not here. If you think this is stretching a point, have a look at the list below, which includes Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick. Practically no one read it until 50 years after he died.

Franz Kafka.

Emily Dickinson.

Edgar Allan Poe.

Kate Chopin.

John Keats.

H.P. Lovecraft.

Herman Melville.


As a musician, I worked in so many different formats but have worked in a few bands. This for me was the worst scenario. You happily collaborate on songs, love playing them, presume they are so good that people will be listening to them in 100 years but silently pray that it never does because you are just going to fall out about who really wrote the song. When I advise young bands, I emphasise the importance of copyright but they almost always say 'Oh it’s okay, we’re all good mates anyway.' For some odd reason, people never seem to stay mates when they are standing in a courtroom.


It costs you very little in terms of finance or time. It just requires you to upload your work and in doing so, it is yours for good. Imagine even just a week after you stop writing somebody reads your book and tries to reinterpret it, it’s already protected. You have nothing to worry about. And, once it's published you have that further protection.


Apologies for such a serious and at times, macabre subject, but I assure you that it is one of the most important aspects of being a writer.






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8 Comments


This is something I had not even considered. I read over and over again from different places before I published that as I have written the work then I automatically own the copyright. Therefore having a public record of the date my book was published is proof that I got there first with my words. Thanks for the nudge to make me look into this some more.

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Rob Jones
Rob Jones
May 12

As Harry implies it is better to err on the side of caution. As I stated in the article (apologies - I don't know why Lee's name is on it, so don't blame him 😁) I have had so many challenges over artistic/music work and even projects I created for Becta/government and local authority, never presuming it would have any significance. Your work has value. Consider copyrighting it sooner rather than later. Might be worth Lee and me running a webinar on this?

Excuse me, must get this book finished...



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jonsparks
jonsparks
May 12

I’m afraid this article perpetuates a common misconception. You don’t ‘copyright’ your work; it is covered by copyright from the moment you create it. I would like to outlaw the use of ‘copyrIght’ as a verb.

I’m also guessing that this article is written from an American perspective. It is true that in the US there is a copyright registration system, but it is not the case in other countries. It may be advisable to register as it apparently makes it easier to enforce your rights in case of infringement, but I must observe that here in the UK I’ve successfully pursued infringers more than once, without ever having to register my copyright in any way.

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If you have published work, it is also well worth while joining and registering it with the ALCS, the Authors' Copyright and Licensing Society. They collect copyright fees due to you from, for example, someone photocopying your work. I once wrote some science textbooks which have been out of print for about twenty years and I still receive royalties from the ALCS (not a lot, we're talking about £50 ish every year). I once got 9p from Norway because someone for some reason had photocopied pages from an out of print Science textbook aimed at the English GCSE!

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Rob Jones
Rob Jones
May 12
Replying to

I agree. Well worth doing 😊

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A sound article. In my will I've named two grandchildren as literary heirs, just in case Hollywood discovers my novels.

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