Copyright 101

Mar 02, 2024By Barnard Publishing
Barnard Publishing

1st January is #copyrightlawday, and seeing as copyright and publishing go hand-in-hand, we wanted to take some time to explain it a little; it can get a little confusing!

Copyright protects your work from other people, and despite what the hashtag says, it's not actually a law because of how difficult it is to actually prove in court - it's more of a gentleman's agreement not to steal other people’s work. Copyright is applied automatically to any produced work (in our case, it’s literature), and it stops people from copying, distributing, lending, performing, or adapting your work without permission (we’ll come back to that later). You can choose for formally copyright it, which is where this ⓒ comes into play, but that can be costly and usually not worth the money.

But it doesn’t last forever - depending on where the work was produced and where it is being sold, the type of media it is, and assuming it is not renewed in any way (looking at you, Disney), copyright will expire. Trying to figure out when and how is the tricky part. For books (because why would we concern ourselves with anything else?) copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author if the book is sold in the UK. Thanks to the Berne Convention, the same can be said about the book overseas (50 years posthumous, rather than 70). This number will change depending on the country and type of product.

“But Becca,” I hear you ask, “you reproduce other people’s work for a living! Doesn’t that mean you are breaking copyright and therefore make you a bad person?”

Remember those bolded words about two paragraphs up? Yeah, they’re the key to publishing.

Authors sign contracts or agreements that clearly state that copyright is being transferred to the publisher under specific circumstances - if those circumstances are not met, the copyright immediately, and without query, back to the author for them to do whatever they like. The agreements will also state how the copyright will be used, and whether it can be sold to a third party e.g. for translation. Although there are usually standards and set lines that are included in the agreements, the author and publisher can alter the agreement to fit their needs and the needs of the project up until the point it is signed. Even after the signatures, amendments can be made, so long as both parties agree and the contract is re-signed.

And that’s about it! A brief introduction to a rather confusing topic. This blog was written in reference to the gov.uk website, where they also explain copyright for all kinds of works. If you have more questions about copyright in relation to publishing, ask away in the comments, or send us an email at [email protected].