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Copyright Law and YWS

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Mon Nov 24, 2008 10:28 pm
Flemzo says...

I recently attended a national convention for the American Music Therapy Association, and one of the sessions I attended was about copyright law. While the main focus of the session was about copyright law in regards to music, several points that were made in the session relates to all works, including music, writing, etc.

I know that in my nearly two years (and counting) on this site, several people were worried about the copyright on their works, and the fear of being plagiarized is very real in today's technological age. In this Knowledge Base entry, I hope to ease some fears about posting your works, as well as answering some common questions about copyright (most of the information in this article comes from, the notes that I took, and personal opinions gathered from the discussion in the session).


The most of important principle of copyright is the "improvement of society through advancement of knowledge". This improvement comes about through fostering creativity, enriching the public domain, supporting democracy, developing wisdom, and several other ways.

Another important principle of copyright is achieving purpose by balancing interests. The relationship between the rights of the creator of a work and the rights of the public to use said works is very frail, being influenced by culture, such as the communal property view of Native Americans; technology, with faster Internet speeds and greater access to more information; politics; and policy process.


Before we can talk about current copyright laws, we must look at the history of copyright, if only to provide context for the current laws.

Current copyright laws started with the "Statute of Anne" in England, which helped to protect authors and other artists. The basic rationale for the Statute comes from a Greek quote, "A speech made public is free." When the Constitution was formed, basic copyright laws similar to the Statute of Anne were inserted, and eventually tweaked to be Title 17 of the US Code.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, made it a crime to circumvent copy protection on the Internet. In regards to music, online infringement can result in up to $250,000 in fines, and up to three years in prison. More information on this act can be found at


Now that we know what copyright is all about, what are some of the basics that people should know about it?

Copyright exists to protect any original expression fixed in a tangible medium. That means, anything you post on YWS that is your original work is protected under copyright. Any story, drawing, script, poem, or otherwise, that is an original work belonging to you, when posted on YWS, is under your copyright. The only things copyright don't protect are facts, ideas, systems, or processes, which means that any information posted in this Knowledge Base article is not protected by copyright, and is free to be spread around wherever one chooses (however, the style in which the information is presented is under copyright, because it is an original work. Get it?).

Copyright protection starts the moment the work becomes fixed in a tangible medium, meaning that as soon as you hit "Submit", your work is under copyright protection. Contrary to popular belief, the copyright symbol (©) does not need to be displayed for a work to be under copyright, since the work is automatically protected (however, if you choose to put the copyright symbol, that's your prerogative).

Please note that because any work on YWS is protected by copyright, if you were to get a poem, story, or novel published in some other medium (magazine, pamphlet, etc), you MUST delete the work from YWS. Otherwise, you will be infringing your own copyright.

Copyright protection ends after a long, long, LONG period of time: the life of the author, plus 70 years, meaning that a work posted on YWS will last as long as the person is alive, and then some.

For example: if I were to post a work today, and live until age 78 (I am 18 now), the copyright on that work wouldn't run out until 130 years from now, or the year 2138. Quite an extensive copyright.

Because you own the copyright to your work, you have special privileges to that work that no one else has. Because you own the copyright, you can:

  • Reproduce or derive from (alter) your work at will.
  • Distribute copies by sale
  • Prohibit the use of your work by others unless you give permission
  • Perform the work publicly (public reading, concert, etc.)

But what if you wanted to use the work of another author, poet, or songwriter? You have one of two options. The first option is to wait until the copyright runs out, but even then, there are strict rules that need to be followed.

If a work was published in a tangible medium BEFORE 1978, the copyright is protected for 95 years. An example would be Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", which was published in 1845. The copyright runs out, becoming public domain and belonging to everyone, 95 years from then, meaning the year 1940 (so, technically, you're free to use it however you want RIGHT NOW!!).

If a work was created, but remained unpublished, before 1978, the copyright runs out after the life of the author plus 70 years, or the year 2003 (whichever happens to be longer). The example used in the session was jazz charts written by a famed jazz trumpeter (whose name escapes me at the moment). Many of his charts were donated to the Library of Congress after his death, making them part of the public domain. The rest, however, remain under copyright for at least 40-50 more years.

If a work falls under the category "works for hire", meaning that a person is hired to write an article, the copyright ends 95 years from publication, 120 years from creation.

Okay, so waiting for the copyright to run out on recent stuff you want to use is going to take way too long. What can you do in the meantime? There's a thing called "Fair Use".

Ideally, Fair Use is only for educators, but in reality, many people can claim it. Fair Use means that you can quote a work without gaining permission, as long as you quote your sources. However, there is one major caveat: to claim Fair Use, you can only use a short section of the work you're using, and it's up to the copyright owner to decide what the definition of "short" is. If we were to go back to our Poe example, if that were still under copyright, and Poe were still alive, he might consider anywhere from one stanza, to something as short as "Once upon a midnight dreary" as "short".

To see if what you're using falls under Fair Use, ask your self the following four questions:

  • In what manner am I using the information?
  • What is the nature of the material I'm using?
  • What is the amount/importance of the information?, and
  • What effect will it play on the market?

If your answer to any of these questions seems suspect, either consult with an attorney (if you can afford it), or don't use it at all.

And there you have the basic of basics of copyright law. If you want more information about it, go to
Last edited by Flemzo on Mon Sep 21, 2009 12:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mon Nov 24, 2008 11:13 pm
Nate says...

Great article, and I have only a couple things to add. First, you switch from "Fair Use" to "Free Use" in one instance near the end. You should fix that before some hapless member gets confused. Second, if your work is posted on YWS, I'm pretty sure you can have it published in other mediums without deleting it from YWS. However, what may happen is that the publisher may require one of two things: (1) You transfer the copyright to them, in which case you will need to delete the work, or (2) they may require you to delete the work as part of a contract. No matter what, you absolutely need to disclose to the publisher that the work has been previously posted on YWS; failure to state that can result in the contract being declared null and void.

Besides, even if you are infringing your own copyright, you'd have to bring a lawsuit against yourself, and for obvious reasons, that doesn't happen... often.
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Wed Nov 26, 2008 4:42 pm
Blink says...

Thanks, that cleared some things up, but, sadly, opened a few more questions.

If it has been previously posted on YWS, but since then the characters have changed names or the story is slightly different, or even as slight a difference as grammatical changes, would it count as being the same piece?

Also, does the writer always hold the intellectual copyright--namely, could I get a copy of Romeo and Juliet published as my own work?

Thank you for the article!
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Thu Jan 05, 2012 7:16 pm
ArahAkachi1 says...

Thanks for the information. My Guardian was worried about me posting my stories on here and someone else taking them and saying it's theirs. Now I won't have to worry anymore.
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