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Copyright and Writing for the Web: What you Need to Know

If you are writing content for your business website or blog, and you don’t have a background as a copywriter, you might not have thought too much about copyright. But, if you publish content on the web, it does apply to you. Read on for a guide to the basics of Australian copyright, and how it works.

At a glance…

  • Australian copyright law protects all ‘original’ written work.
  • No one can claim copyright over an idea.
  • Copyright protection is free and you don’t have to register for it.
  • Keep dated copies of material to help prove you own copyright over a piece of text.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects all original textual material, from articles, to business reports, poems and novels.

What isn’t protected by copyright?

There is no copyright on ideas, concepts, thoughts, information or techniques. One reason for this exclusion is that ideas and information can evolve, and in many cases they grow out of many people’s contributions.

It’s also helpful to know that names, titles and slogans are not usually subject to copyright protection. This is because they are held to be ‘too small or unoriginal’ to feasibly be protected in law. However, using a name already being used by someone else can create other legal problems, so always check beforehand.

What does this mean for me?

In practical terms, you are likely to be infringing copyright if you copy text from somewhere else – a blog or competitor website for example – and use it as though you had written it yourself from scratch. Although you can’t just cut and paste from someone else’s article, you can quote from a source as long as you acknowledge the source. You can also use an idea from another article as a springboard for a blog post or article of your own on that topic. If you do this, consider citing the original source, or linking to it, in your own article.

You might not want to cite a competitor’s website of course, but referencing an authoritative commentator in your field shows you are keeping abreast of developments, and tells your target audience that you are likely to be a good source of relevant information.

What if I hire copywriters to write my content?

If you’re publishing content that paid copywriters have written for your business, you can use a tool such as Copyscape to check for plagiarism, and reduce the risk that you’ll inadvertently breach someone else’s copyright.

How can I protect my own work?

In Australia, the moment your fingers hit the keyboard, the text is protected by copyright. Protection is automatic at point of creation, and it lasts for your lifetime plus 70 years, or 70 years after first publication.

Copyright protection carries no cost or administrative burden. That’s right, copyright is free. You don’t need to register your material or fill in any forms. You don’t even need to put a copyright notice on it (that’s the © symbol by the way). Becoming a verified Google+ author may also help to prevent people from claiming credit for your online content.

Using the “©” symbol

While you don’t need to have a copyright notice on your work for it to be protected, having one does make the point that the material should not be regarded as open source, or copyright free.

A copyright notice is simply created as follows: © (your name) (year of creation) e.g. © Amy Generic 2013. Again, there’s no formality about this, just hit the keyboard and put it at the end of your work.

It’s my copyright. How can I prove it?

Not everyone retains copyright. For example, professional web copywriters often give copyright over an article or web page content to a client. Where you do own copyright, proving it is largely a matter of good record keeping. Just as you’d keep good financial records, retaining receipts and invoices, you should retain original, dated copies of your material. You can back this up with copies of relevant business communications.

Evidence can include:

  • Dated outlines and drafts
  • Dated records of research
  • Discussions you had with others about the work
  • Your ability to prove that you showed drafts or the finished version to others
  • Written records of agreements about ownership of copyright

So there you have it. Although copyright might sound complicated, it doesn’t have to be. Your own work is automatically protected, and you can easily make sure you don’t infringe someone else’s rights by investing in a plagiarism checker, and being careful to cite sources where needed.

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