Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Learning Copyright…

What Does “Learn Copyright” Mean?

I’m talking about one tiny area of this on the Bite-Sized Copyright class this week. But much deeper than I will do here.

When I tell a writer to learn copyright, I not only mean the Copyright Handbook, which is a great place to start, but I also mean following and understanding what is happening now in the culture when it comes to copyright.

Everything from reading the recent copyright suits to reading the WGA settlement agreement. All kinds of copyright stuff.

But I also mean learn the history of copyright because most writers have gotten stuck in time at one point or another with copyright and their understanding of it. Copyright law changes. And always has and always will.

For example, I got a very logical question from a writer about the copyright pages of traditionally published books. These days traditional publishing contracts say “All rights for the life of the copyright.” That means the publisher owns the book.

But a writer asked me if that were true, why do copyright pages on those books say the copyright is in the name of the author?

You know your copyright enough to know the answer?

In short, copyright notice is no longer required to be put on books and it has zero legal value. It is put on copyright pages more for the readers than anything these days. So traditional publishers just take the name of the author or the author’s company and stick it on the copyright page. Means nothing at all, but looks better than putting on the copyright page “Copyright by money-grubbing, rishts-grabbing big corporation.”

In other words, it is a sham.

And why didn’t the author who asked the question know this? Their knowledge of copyright got stuck back in a time when copyright notices were critical and meant something.

Copyright is always changing. “Learn copyright” means learn the basics and then the history and keep learning as copyright laws morph into the future.


  • Filip Wiltgren

    There is another difference when the copyright is held by the author – the clause that says that “the author shall hold the copyright for the benefit of the publisher.”

    The way I understand it (and I’m no lawyer, so I could definitely be wrong) it means that the author must defend the copyright, or else the publisher can sue them for damages to the publisher’s bottom line…

    Seeing this on a friend’s contract, which the publisher refused to remove, was what made me decide to never submit anything to a trad pub ever again.

    • dwsmith

      No defense of copyright needed under the law. That is a typical scam clause in traditional publishing contracts. But still a good thing you avoided them.

  • Philip

    I think I need to take my lawyer skills to the law library and invest the time to learn copyright and IP law. I took Entertainment Law but the professor laser-focused on rights contracts and how not to get screwed by Hollywood (he was an attorney who represented authors selling media rights as well as people who sold their life stories for mostly Lifetime movies).

    I thought of you, Dean, as this came up today:

    Just heard this snippet on the Six Figure Authors podcast: a lot of elite bestselling indie authors only net 10% because 90% goes towards expenses, primarily advertising and marketing. I’m all for spending money to make money, but pissing away $900,000 to net $100,000 so you can call yourself a Million-Dollar Bestseller is not a win in my book.

      • David Alastair Hayden

        The discussion was on AMS and Facebook ads primarily. And I would hardly call those a scam. Those are legitimate marketing tools and strategies for many businesses.

        Obviously, spending $90 to make $100 is a terrilbe strategy, especially in the long term. That would hardly be unique to indie publishing, though. I’ve seen that kind of expenditure in other fields. It’s the race for out-advertising competitors, and it leads to large ad expenditures.

        My strategy is the reverse of that. I spend roughly 10% on advertising, primarily through Facebook, sometimes up to 20% for a short while for specific reasons. From what I’ve seen in research 5-15% is the typical ad spend for small businesses.

        • dwsmith

          David, when someone is telling you that you MUST as most of these do, spend that kind of money to make a little money, and they make money in the process of telling you, I call those a scam, mostly because they do not work for most writers. And kill writer’s careers because of the myth that YOU MUST DO THAT. That is a scam, plain and simple.

          I can tell you that we spend about $400 a month on paid ads, and many months go by we don’t even come close to spending it all. Just our budget. Less than one percent. So spending 90% of your gross income and paying people to teach you how to spend that 90% is a scam. Period.

          • David Alastair Hayden

            I don’t disagree about the “must” part.

            I would have to listen again to the podcast again, but as I recall, that was presented as factual information rather than any sort of recommendation whatsoever. I know those particular authors aren’t spending that much money on ads. And it’s not a for-profit podcast, so it’s not information being sold.

            I have no doubt, however, that someone else out there may be selling this ridiculous strategy.

            Personally, the only “musts” that I live by are writing and publishing what I write. Everything else is variable.

  • Kate Pavelle

    The copyright lectures of William Fisher (CopyrightX.) They are good, but quite dense. He has a good graphic system which keeps the viewer from getting lost, though. It’s a valuable program. I am thankful that his speaking pace is measured, it allows me to think between one phrase and the next.

  • Aniket Gore

    Just started it, and the fourth video about IP left me beweildered. I was like can you really do that? Wow! Excited to go through all those videos. Thanks for them Dean!