What is copyright and why is it important?

Here at Channel View Publications/Multilingual Matters I wear several different hats and one of these is Rights Manager. When I have my Rights Manager hat on, one of my responsibilities is to deal with all our incoming permissions requests. I also offer guidance to our authors who need to clear material for inclusion in a forthcoming publication. Before explaining how we deal with copyright, it makes sense to first explain briefly what copyright actually is.

The general rule is that “He who writes it down has the copyright”. You do not need to register your copyright; in order for something to be copyrighted it simply needs to be recorded in a permanent way, be that in the form of a book, a website, a recording, illustration or any other format. Even if the material is freely available or does not have the copyright symbol (©) alongside it, the person who originally created it will own the copyright. The copyright symbol is very useful for identifying who the copyright holder is.

Copyright differs from plagiarism and should not be confused with it. Copyright infringement is the copying of material without permission, whereas plagiarism is the copying of ideas either without attribution or with a false attribution.

Permissions table

© Laura Longworth

The copyright lies in the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. This means that ideas can be copied (of course only with acknowledgement of their origin to avoid plagiarism) but the layout, be that, for example, the exact wording or presentation of information cannot be copied without permission or substantial adaptation.

In the UK, copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author, only after this time period can works be copied without permission. Other occasions when permission may not be required in order for material to be republished include:

  • Fair use – this is when the amount copied is an unsubstantial amount of the whole original work, an example would be a 100 word quote from a 300 page book not requiring permission to be cleared. The value of the whole original work should be taken into account: while 2 lines of a poem might seem like an unsubstantial amount, if the poem is only 6 lines long then permission is definitely required to republish!
  • Some items, such as a nutritional table on food packaging, are not copyrighted as there are only so many ways that such information can be displayed. A unique or novel way of displaying it would however be copyright protected.
  • A photograph you have taken is not necessarily your copyright. For example, if you have photographed an advertisement and the advertisement forms the main focus of the image the designer of the advertisement/company advertising will still be the copyright holder as by photographing you have made a copy and not a unique expression of the idea.
  • Some materials are termed “orphan works”. This is when, despite considerable efforts, the copyright holder is unable to be found or contacted. When orphan works are used without permission a record should be kept of the ways in which reasonable efforts have been made to contact the copyright holder.
  • In academic publishing it is common for material to be reproduced without permission if it is in the form of a review or scholarly criticism. Accreditation to the original author should, of course, be given.
  • If the work is available with a Creative Commons license then it may be usable without permission. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses, each one offering a different degree of flexibility. The meaning of each license can be checked here: creativecommons.org/licenses

The advice we give is to make sure that you have permission to publish what you publish and if in doubt, check! We’re always happy to answer any queries you might have, however small they may seem. Look out for my next post explaining how I deal with queries as they come in.

Laura

One Response to What is copyright and why is it important?

  1. […] an earlier blog post I explained what copyright actually is. This post looks at what we actually do when a permissions […]

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