Copyright is pretty important to writers. Like most aspects of the law, there are ins and outs that it doesn’t hurt to have a law degree to understand. But Brian Klems over at Writers Digest has collected some of the popular copyright Q&As for easy access and comprehension. You can read the official word on copyright matters at the U.S. Copyright Office’s FAQs.
How long copyright lasts depends on when something was published and how it was published. The length of copyright now far outlasts the creator’s lifetime thanks to Mickey Mouse and Sonny Bono. (Come to think of it … did we ever see them together?) Increasingly, some corporations are using the copyright laws to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good (like they use or break or bribe their way around all the other laws). This is turning copyright law into a minefield for creators and is shrinking the public domain. For a guided tour of what’s good and what’s bad about the present state of copyright law, read this excellent graphic presentation (okay, it’s a comic book) written by three lawyers; the PDF is freely available at the Public Domain website. It focuses on documentary filmmaking, but don’t let that deter you from reading it.
I’m a great believer in copyright while I’m living and could (theoretically) earn some part of my living from what I write. And this is a good time to remind everyone that my stories and haiku (indeed, all my words here at Catsignal) are copyrighted and made available through a Creative Commons license. Scroll down the About page to see both.
But there will come a time after my inevitable death when there will be absolutely no good reason why my work shouldn’t be freely available to all. Why wouldn’t a creator want his stories to join those of Aesop and Shakespeare and Dickens in the public domain? Without that escape hatch, a creative work faces the possibility of being orphaned and lost forever.