(Published Oct 31, 2012. This article was originally written as a sample for a potential client.)As a writer/editor, knowing about copyright is part of the job description. In addition, you need to approach copyright law from the perspective of a business owner, too, and the buck stops with you. So, due to these two things, it's absolutely vital that you keep your copyright nose clean!
As a recap, copyright is the set of laws that protect ownership of created works, such as music, written content, and art/photography. As a business owner and freelance writer, you've got to think about copyright as a two-way street: What mistakes are you making that might violate others' copyright, as well as what are your rights, and how are you protecting them? Both kinds of mistakes can be costly, and that's the last thing we want, right? So, let's take a look.
Copyright Mistake #1: Using Photos Without Permission
A photo that's downloadable from the internet doesn't constitute a free-for-all. If you're using others' work on your website, brochures or business cards, you may be violating their copyright, and as a writer, you DON'T want that. So, be sure that you check permissions on that gorgeous vector art before you slap it on that brochure or business card! Many online photography sites will have permissions prominently displayed, or you might have to look for the small print. In a pinch, be sure to contact the owner/artist outright and ask. And no, attribution isn't the same thing as permission.
Copyright Mistake #2: Allowing Your Content to be Stolen
Maybe you think it's no big deal if a scraper on the other side of the world lifts the copy from your site or article and drops it squarely into theirs. After all, you've likely already been paid for it, right? Or perhaps you think that's your client's problem? Maybe you even think the exposure is good? Nope, there are definitely some consequences.
For example, when content is duplicated on the internet using your exact wording, the Google search algorithm may negatively rank your content. If it's your site, that's less potential clients finding you. If it's your client's site, they'll see a low reader rate for your work- and maybe they won't hire you anymore! If you're trying to draw traffic via Search Engine Optimization, you must be aware of this situation! Find out where your content might be ending up by plugging unique paragraphs into Google to see what comes up. Another option is Copyscape.com's service, which searches on your behalf.
Copyright Mistake #3: Throwing a Tantrum When Another Company Uses the Same Business Name or Another Writer Has the Same Byline
Your business name was a stroke of genius, darn it, and when that cad down the street moved in with a similar moniker, you threatened to sue!
But hold on a minute there! Have your trademarked your name, slogan, or other important bits through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office? No? Then you haven't got a leg to stand on. Names, slogans, tag lines, product names and so forth are not subject to copyright law.
Therefore, if your name or slogan (or any sequence of words) are that important to you, you'll need to attempt to trademark them. For some bits of text, this is not an easy task.
Knowing the protections afforded to you and others when it comes to copyright will save you a lot of grief in the future. Ensuring that you follow copyright laws will aid your professional image and show your clients that you get this industry. Be sure to know copyright law and follow it to the letter to preempt any costly lawsuits or embarrassments down the line.