Legal information for writers
By knowing your legal rights as a writer, you will be able to better protect your work. The main legal issues that affect writers are copyright and moral rights.
Whether you make art just for pleasure or you want to make money from your work, this information will help you protect your rights.
The information on this page applies to a whole range of literary forms, including short stories, novels, memoirs, blogs, scripts, poetry and essays.
On this page:
- Copyright for writers
- Moral rights for writers
- Important things to remember
- Legal tips
Copyright is important because it protects your work against use by others without your permission and allows you to get money for your work. Copyright in your written work gives you the right to:
- copy it;
- publish your work for the first time;
- perform your work in public;
- communicate your work – for example, put an article on the internet; and/or
- change or make an adaptation of your work.
Other people need your permission or licence to do these things.
Remember that ideas are not protected by copyright. Your ideas are not protected until you have put them into writing.
Moral rights are personal rights that connect the creator of a work to their work. As a writer, you have the moral right to:
- be acknowledged by showing your name with your work;
- stop anyone else from being named as the creator of your work; and
- protect yourself if your work is treated in any way that hurts your reputation.
Writers and publishers will most often use these two contracts:
1. Publishing agreement
If you publish a text, for example a novel, the publishing contract says what your and the publisher’s rights and obligations are.
2. Option and Purchase contracts
Option and Purchase contracts are useful if someone wants to make a film based on your novel, memoir or short story.
Whatever you write in a blog is protected by copyright, which you own. If you want to use work from other people in your blog, you must get the copyright owner’s permission.
Be careful with what you write and publish, especially if you want to express a strong opinion about someone. If you write something that lowers a person’s reputation they can take legal action against you for defamation.
- You own copyright in any text you write.
- You always have moral rights in your written work.
- If you show your work to anyone, or send it to a publisher, always include the following details with what you have written:
- the copyright notice (©), your name, and the year you wrote the text; e.g. © John Doe 2010.
- No one should use your work without your permission or licence. If you give permission for someone to use your work, you can ask for payment.
- Assigning copyright means selling your copyright.
- Do not assign your copyright if you can license it instead.
- If you license your work, make sure that your contract clearly says the uses you allow. Put the © notice, your name and the year on a cover page and at the bottom of each page of any manuscripts.
- Get legal advice on any contract.
- A good contract should be fair, and you should be happy with it before you sign anything.