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What is Copywrite?!

© 1997 Glenn Barry

Copywrite is a word often used by people who write when they really mean copyright or the ownership of a creative work of words. Such people have been inspired to write by playwrites or great writers, they may be frustrated advertising or public relations copywriters. So when it comes to the logical extension of legal ownership of a written work they feel the word should be copywrite. So then what is the difference between copy write and right? Well, it's all in the meaning of the word.

The former is "to express or communicate in writing". The later is the "right" of ownership of what has been "writ!"

Right:- Correct, proper, just.

Copy:- A transcript, reproduction, or imitation of an original.

So a copyright is a thing you may own, that is, the right to copy. It is just that as the creator of the original story here titled "What Is Copywrite", the right to reproduction of this story is mine, it is just, correct and proper that I own the right to any copying of the story.

When you are the owner of what is highly desirable to copy, you may sell, hire or lend this right to copy. As with this piece of writing, I have given my consent to SPAWN to reproduce that which is mine so you will all think I am very clever. To see it in print (or at least on the screen), to know that it may help others is reward enough for me in this instance.

But what is mine? Surely not the idea of copyright? Well no, you cannot copyright an idea as such. What about the words? Again, no. The words belong to everybody. Then you may well ask what is copyright here?

Well it is me, my style, the way I think as expressed in the way I string together words to form an original piece of writing. It is not what I am saying but rather the way I say it. Let us for a moment look at a few words on their own, strung together in random order.

Any, what's, a, in, sweet, by, other, so, smell, call, which, would, name, rose.

Just a collection of random words you might say. Quite meaningless.

But let a writer rearrange those words and something quite unique and distinctive may leap from the page. Not only with beauty, but with such forceful identity of the author that there can be no doubt of whose hand wrote the words.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet". (ACT II, Romeo and Juliet. - William Shakespeare)

From this rearrangement of those few meaningless words, can there be any doubt as to whom the copyright belonged?

Sadly for Bill and his heirs, copyright does not last forever. Thus this famous arrangement of words is now public domain and I may use them as I will. Indeed I may borrow from contemporary writing where a current copyright exists. The law allows me to do this, provided that I copy from the original in the manner allowed by the law for certain purposes.

Consider Mark Litwak's book Deal Making in the Film and Television Industry (ISBN 1-879505-15-0). I will now lift a few paragraphs knowing full well that Mark cannot sue me for breach of copyright for doing so!

"A copyright owner's rights are further limited by what is know as the "Fair Use Doctrine". This doctrine permits others to borrow portions of a copyright work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching and scholarship" (Chapter 12 P273).

As you can see Mark has been "hoisted on his own petar[d]" as

"the copyright act lists the following factors to be considered [in the borrowing small excepts from other works]."

"1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes".

Now Mark will never sue me for breaching his copyright, for the very reasons he has outlined in his book in the first instance. As well, I hope, for the reason I have credited him with the authorship of those words and have not claimed them as my own (plagiarism). Indeed my fair use may help him sell a few more copies of his very good book, he might even send me a thank you for doing it!

Now when does my copyright in this story begin? Well as each word has followed another my copyright has been established. These words expressed in this manner are mine. I do not need to register them, I need no copyright symbol (not since 1989 in the USA). I do not obtain a copyright, I do not need to register this story anywhere. The copyright to this story is mine from the very moment I created it.

Mark's stuff remains his, I have simply borrowed legally from his work. I have legally incorporated his words into my copyright story.

You in turn may borrow from my work, you may copy it for certain purposes. Just don't claim it as your own or use it to make money that should be rightfully mine, (or Mark's).... or Mark and I will gang up and will sue you for copyright infringement!

Glenn Barry writes for Rolling Good Times Online, a Zine ( He is not a lawyer; his advice is a lay explanation.)



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