This article was last updated on 17th July 2020. Please note, advice on copyright changes as laws both international and local are updated. If you are seeking proper, professional copyright or trademark advice, hire a lawyer!
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. There is a charge, but the good thing is you can copyright a collection of works at the same time for the same fee.
In the past, the simplest method of protecting your copyright was to post a copy of the work you have created to yourself (or your representative) by registered or special class post. You were advised to make sure there is a good, obvious seal on the envelope, or even consider sealing wax! The date of the postmark was considered proof of the date of posting, providing you do not open the envelope. File it away somewhere safe, or with your representative.
However, in today’s world, this is no longer considered by some a valid method of protection and even when this advice was common, posting yourself a copy of your work or depositing a script/copies of character drawings/etc. with your bank or solicitor was, and is, not the same thing as registering the copyright (which is yours, anyway, the moment you create it) – but would, unless you were challenged that you had steamed open the envelope! – 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.
Upsetting the Dead
It is impossible to libel a dead person. It is the living friends and relations you have to think about. Search for the article “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” on the UK Writers Guild website. The Guild often advises individual members on these issues.
• The UK Writer’s Union has many resources available for members – writersguild.org.uk
A well established copyright registration facility, protecting the work of copyright owners all over the world
Prompted by questions about copyright on The77 anthology-related The77–2000ADGroup on Facebook, comic creator Dan Whitehead kindly gave downthetubes permission to re-publish his general thoughts on how much legal protection is there in the UK for characters you create and get published without having to spend money.
Thanks to Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for help with part of the information on this page
Because this needs repeating: If you are seeking proper, professional copyright or trademark advice, hire a lawyer!