Creating Comics: Copyright Matters

If you are considering writing comics professionally you may be worried about your work being stolen by others. Equally, given the sources that have inspired you, you may be worried about stealing from others. Here’s some items on the subject, which I hope you’ll find useful. Some of the material is based on a news group posting by Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, which he very kindly gave me permission to reproduce on here.

Copyright protects any artistic or literary work that is recorded in any way. Whatever you write or draw is automatically copyright is yours – automatically, legally, inalienably etc. – as the writer/author/artist of the item in question. There is no such thing as paying for copyright in your own work.

Copyright is automatic whenever you write or record a piece of work (in the UK — it is different in the US and elsewhere). Music is copyright, and there are other rights relating to musical works and performances. If you whistle a tune in the street and somebody copies it, there isn’t anything you can do. But if you write it down in musical notation it is protected by copyright. If you tape-record your whistling the music is also protected by copyright and in addition there are rights attaching to your performance.

Protecting your rights is not straightforward. It is expensive to bring a case to court and difficult to prove your case to the satisfaction of a judge or jury. So it better to have a clear idea of what your rights are, and how best to avoid trouble. There are several good books available on the subject and any serious professional writer should read one of them.

Registration of Copyright

Registration of copyright is very different, and is important only when you need to prove it, for any reason. 

If you are worried your work may be stolen, then you can register your script with a body which specialises in such things. The United States Library of Congress is one place.

Incidentally, if you’re a screenwriter, the Screenwriters (UK and USA) Guild offer a copyright protection service.

In the US, the easiest way to register copyright is just to use the US Copyright office.
It cost about $20, but the good thing is you can copyright a collection of works at the same time for the same fee.

The simplest method of protecting your copyright is to post a copy of the work you have created to yourself (or your representative) by registered or special class post. Make sure there is a good, obvious seal on the envelope, or even consider sealing wax! The date of the postmark is proof of the date of posting, providing you do not open the envelope. File it away somewhere safe, or with your representative.
Posting yourself a copy of your work or depositing a script/copies of character drawings/etc. with your bank or solicitor is not the same thing as registering the copyright (which is yours, anyway, the moment you create it) – but will at least prove the date of your endeavours…

Taking Material from Published Sources

You should be wary of taking material from published sources. The facts themselves aren’t copyright, but the form in which they are expressed, and any creative order in which they are arranged, is copyright, and you can’t reproduce it without permission. There’s a useful article on what constitutes fair use here on BookZonePro.

Upsetting the Dead

It is impossible to libel a dead person. It is the living friends and relations you have to think about. See the article “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” on the UK Writers Guild website. The Guild often advises individual members on these issues.

Thanks to Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for help with part of the information on this page.

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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