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What is Copyright?

by Craig Lock

No one can reproduce your work without your permission - not even a personal letter. How much of a writer's work can be legitimately used? A poem of 40-50 words is generally considered to be OK. Usually one is not allowed to copy substantial amounts of another writer's work without their express permission.

No one can reproduce your work without your permission - not even a personal letter. How much of a writer's work can be legitimately used? A poem of 40-50 words is generally considered to be OK. Usually one is not allowed to copy substantial amounts of another writer's work without their express permission.

But then what is meant by the word "substantial"? It is widely open to interpretation and opens up a literary and legal "minefield" (that's a metaphor, by the way!).

There are no hard and fast guidelines about the rule of copy- right. The following is a rough rule of thumb:

You can take approximately 300 words from a book or any other lengthy work of writing. You can also quote 150 words from a magazine article. Fifty (50) words quoted from a news- paper article is generally considered to be "fair use" without requiring either permission or a fee. Copyright lasts 50 years after your death.

You can use what is termed 'fair dealing' in writing reports, or researching material. I always advise acknowledging sources in your reference section (the bibliography - I tried very hard to bring in that impressive long word).

It's all very unclear - the entire subject of copyright; so I won't say too much. My simple words of advice are: Just use your common sense and discretion (if you have some)... and be HONEST by fol- lowing your heart. Don't copy other author's material and purport (nice word, eh?) to be the author. One should not paraphrase a substantial amount of another author's writing, nor use that writer's points (or theme of their writing) without due ACKNOWLEDGMENT. Hint hint!

If you get into a dispute (oops!), there are specialised trade and copyright laywers (or solicitors as they call them here in 'civilised' NZ) in the big centres. If in doubt, get advice...then DON'T infringe copyright.

Send requests to use "borrowed" material to the permissions editor of a magazine, newspaper or book publisher. Book publishers usually have a small department which deals solely in this. Give them as much information as possible about your article or book, your publisher, as well as other books or articles written by you. Tell them what quotes you want to use and why and so on. Say you will give them due acknowledgement in your writing. They'll usually oblige.

There is sometimes a small fee payable. Always acknowledge the sources of your quotations - then you've kept your word, your side of the "bargain".

Also keep copies of your correspondence in the event of an unlikely dispute.

Now a bit for Kiwis (and Brits)...

No one can reproduce your work without your permission. New Zealand law closely follows British law. In NZ copyright is usually protected for 50 years after the author's death. If a book is published posthumously (nice long word that), copyright extends for 75 years after the time of the author's death. After that the work can be freely used by anyone. No hope for me then... but perhaps my great great grand- children!

As from 1989, New Zealand copyright law requires 3 copies of every NZ publication to go to the National Library in Wellington. One of which goes to the Alexander Turnbull Library, one to the National Library for bibliographical pur- poses, while the third is kept at the Parliamentary Library in the capital in Wellington.

Sometimes a publisher might want copyright in exchange for a fee. My advice: It's your work of art. So always retain your copyright... unless you are in dire financial straits, like this aspiring (and perspiring) writer.

In the next lesson (and article) we will look at the subject of plagiarism . Wow, that's a big word and I hope I spelt it cor- rectly (especially for you "slick Americans")! No , I don't mind you using my material and I feel, it may be very hard for another "writer" to closely copy my rather "wacky style of hopefully informing and entertaining at the same time".

Anyway, isn't "imitation the sincerest form of flattery"?

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Craig Lock is an author of numerous books and the creator of the ORIGINAL online creative writing course.