State of Independents

opinions free from chains

Rights and Copyright

Posted on November 19, 2010 by

This is a post for the lovely Jane Smith’s Copyright Day (she writes How Publishing Really Works, but I’m sure you know that already).

As both publishers and booksellers we get a lot of books (or to be frank, “books”) that people would like us either to publish or sell. The quality varies (understatement), but what I find most astonishing is that sometimes I open a book to find that it seems….familiar. There’s a fine line between “influenced by” and “flagrant breach of copyright”, and it’s one I obviously see differently to the person who sent me a near-perfect rendition of a Spike Milligan poem. Copyright has been a controversial issue in the sphere of printed books – the Ian McEwan debacle and the numerous Harry Potter trials spring to mind – but social media and self-publishing has knotted it into a morass of confusion.

People have written whole books on this subject, but it strikes me that a number of salient points seem clear:

1.       Whilst there is no copyright on ideas, as soon as you write something down, it’s yours, and no one else should be able to use it without permission;

2.       Unless someone else has already written it down, obviously;

3.       In which case: if you didn’t know that someone else had written it first, then tough, the copyright still isn’t yours;

4.       There are some exceptions, such as fair use;

5.       If you are going to send me a picture book with really, really ugly illustrations, at least make sure you aren’t sullying Spike Milligan’s poetry in the process.

The reaction to Judith Griggs and Cooks Source has been extraordinarily vitriolic and I think it’s partly because of the unspoken recognition that writing is both personal and powerful. I am neither a novelist nor poet, but even in this blog post I am writing down part of myself – this is what I think, and my writing testifies to that. No one else should be able to steal it, or twist my words into something I didn’t intend. Authors have spurred political movements; made and destroyed figureheads; put into words that feeling you have always had but never knew how to describe, and the law acknowledges their achievement, courage and right to be compensated when their work is reproduced by someone else. Copyright recognises that writing has value, and for that, I am grateful.


5 Responses to “Rights and Copyright”

  1. Jane Smith
    November 19th, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    Thanks for this post. I’m amazed that so many clever and busy people–you included–have bothered to contribute, and very grateful to you all. This is lovely, clear summary of how things should, and shouldn’t, work, and I’ve now linked to it from my original piece.

  2. Becky
    November 19th, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    Jane, you’re welcome, it was a lovely idea, and some other people have great posts :-)

  3. Cat
    December 10th, 2010 @ 6:37 am

    Meant to say I did look at this back then Becky – if you ever get back to the comments!

  4. PaulOnBooks
    February 17th, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    If only some of the social media sites shared your antipathy to plagiarism! I blog on Squidoo and they’re great at removing stolen material but others demand ludicrous processes before they’ll even consider removal.

  5. Writers’ Rights: Right? | How Publishing Really Works
    June 22nd, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    […] Of Independents (a blog from and independent bookseller and publisher in Edinburgh) there’s a great and concise post which outlines what copyright means, and how writers should observe the laws […]

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Welcome to State of Independents. I'm Vanessa Robertson. I live in Edinburgh and my husband and I run a tiny publishing house. We also used to own the award-winning Edinburgh Bookshop. This is where I write about the book trade as I see it and I'm not always as diplomatic as I should be...

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