Protecting Our Writing 101

Penny S. Tee Article

Well, it’s a new year. We’ve celebrated our 2016 successes, learned our lessons from our mistakes, and are ready to take action in 2017.

As writers, our creations come straight from our hearts—they’re our babies. As parents, the first essential for our children is safety—protection. So I was excited to attend a recent lecture by, Randal Morrison—his friends call him “Randy.” His family moved to Australia when he was a young child. When Randy and his sister, Sheila were introduced together at the tiny school, if you know anything about Australian expressions, let’s just say the teacher had a hard time holding it together without laughing—his parents have a naughty sense of humor.

Randy spoke about how to protect our intellectual property. He’s not only an accomplished lawyer, he’s also a writer, so I knew he would be especially clued in to our concerns.  He is the author of the YA novel, Seven Moon Circus.

Randy’s expertise focuses on protecting Intellectual Property, which includes:

  • Legal doctrines from creations of the human mind
  • Copyright, patent, industrial designs
  • Trade and service marks; Trade secrets
  • Publicity rights

He is among the roughly 1% of all lawyers admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court, and has authored briefs in five of the federal courts of appeal. In short, he knows his stuff.

It was clear from our discussions of real-world concerns, that questions regarding intellectual property might be asked with broad strokes, but accurate answers for these questions can only be found looking at the very specific details of each case. I don’t think he’ll have to worry about having to search for clients any time soon.

Randy taught exactly what copyright is:

The legal right to exclusive control of the duplication, marketing and uses of certain classes of creative, expressive works. A legal monopoly, limited in time and scope.

He also taught us who it protects, which include authors (writing on their own or in groups), private agreements – which should always be in writing, and “work for hire” – a special category, and you really have to know what you are signing up for.

He warned us about the strings attached to “work for hire.” Your employer now owns all of the rights of your work, and the contract will typically try to attach any work you do during that time period. Even if they hired you for your expertise in genetics and you happened to invent a recipe for lasagna, they’d want a piece. (Well actually, for lasagna, so would I). Negotiate an exclusion! Randy said your compensation doesn’t have to be limited to your fee; royalties can be negotiated into your contract—not typical, but possible.

Copyright laws are complicated and if you’re anything like me as soon as I see something resembling: “Title 17 US Code:  sections 101, etc., my eyes start rolling back in my head – DON’T DO THAT! – or at least hire someone to protect you! You do need to know this is the code protecting original works of authorship including:  literary, musical, dramatic, pantomimes, pictorial, graphic, sculptures, motion pictures and audiovisual work.

Copyrights pertain to fixed work. Be sure to maintain copies of all your manuscript drafts in case some time in the future you will have to prove it is yours. People have to have permission to use your masterpieces, so protect them. You can also safeguard your writing with a neutral third party group like the Writer’s Guild, who, for a minimal fee, register your piece; and this can be used as strong evidence, should the need arise.

I think this is the first time I’ve heard a government agency being praised about the job they do. Randy said the Copyright Office does a “stupendous job” and he advised looking at as an excellent resource. The Copyright office has examiners looking at each application in detail. Randy walked us through each step in registering for a copyright.

Probably almost as important as what is protected under copyright law, is what is not protected.  This covers many types of work and may require a different type of protection such as trade or service marks, for example – names.

The extensive list of what works aren’t included by copyright are:

  • ideas (not yet “fixed” in tangible mediums)
  • procedures or processes
  • systems of operation
  • concepts, principle or discovery
  • Laws of nature
  • names, titles, slogans
  • individual words
  • facts
  • traditional folk tales and melodies (usually the author is unknown)
  • typefaces and fonts (there are industrial design patents to protect these)
  • works in the public domain
  • government legislation
  • court rulings
  • if the copyright is expired or invalidated by the court
  • ordinary conversations – again – not yet fixed.

All this talk of fixed work, made my mind wander to the rewriting I was doing on my book, “Blasted from Complacency,” see I told you, I’m incorrigible : )

A modern day exclusion to the exclusions : ) – languages in general aren’t protected under copyright UNLESS, it’s a newly created language such as those used in mediums such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

Online copyright coverage has added a whole other layer of complexity to an already complex mess – definitely the spirits working in favor of copyright lawyers : )

Other nitty gritty details of copyright law include how to register a copyright and giving notice. There are 3 requirements to giving notice including:

  • The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.”;
  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name of the owner of copyright in the work.
  • Example: © 1996 Penny S. Tee

If the work is unpublished, the appropriate format for the notice includes the phrase:

  • “Unpublished Work” and the year of creation.
  • Example: Unpublished Work © 1995 Penny S. Tee1

There are also other symbols you might need to become aware of depending on what you are trying to protect including:  (P) for phonograms (sound recordings), ® for trademark registrations, TM for claim to trademark and SM for claim to service mark.

So I’ve provided you with a glimpse of the complexity of the world of protecting your work.  Now go out and do your research or hire an expert like Randy Morrison who will keep you out of legal troubles and able to do what you love to do – write : ) Here’s to a creative, successful and protected 2017.

For those running to your email now to contact Randy, here is his contact information:  If you do, be sure to let him know you heard about him from me – thanks!



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