Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Comment on Copyright

One week back at school, and I haven’t so much as opened a novel file; it’s disheartening. Next week, though, I have the perfect excuse for working on writing: through my association with the Writers’ Community of Durham Region, I have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an agent, who will go over my query letter and the first twenty pages of The Harper’s Word.  This means completely overhauling the first twenty pages (my opening chapters of a novel are always rough and full of exposition)

I have to manage this overhaul without neglecting class work, which I’m really enjoying this term.  Readings for intellectual property (IP) and copyright are of particular interest to me, since I want to end up working as a literary agent or entertainment lawyer.  Some of the material is, besides interesting, actually quite entertaining.  In illustration, here’s a quote from a judgment by Lady Justice Arden, which was re-printed in an article by David Vaver, entitled “Does the Public Understand Intellectual property, do lawyers?” from the Meredith Lecture Series Intellectual Property at the Edge: New Approaches to IP in a Transsystemic World:

“I … was surprised that copyright attached to solicitors’ correspondence (though, one knows, having read bundles of solicitors’ correspondence, that they might sometimes justify being called literary works of fiction.”

I, too, was interested to learn that basic correspondence could be considered both “literature” and therefore copyright.  The paper goes on to examine the definitions of the key clause in the Canadian Copyright Act: “original works of literature,” explain that “’literary’ doesn’t mean ‘literary,’ at least not in the sense of Dickens or Atwood, or Dan Brown (Barely).”  “Original,” simply means “not copied” for the purposes of the act.  Vaver suggests then, that two pieces, even if identical, would not be in violation of copyright if they were created separately and without knowledge of the other—a complicated, but intriguing notion.  I’m curious to see how this pans out in case law (case law being the written judgments of judges that affect the way in which statutes like the Copyright Act are interpreted in future). 

My copyright law professor indicated in class that copyright occurs the moment something is “fixed” (i.e. set down on paper), and therefore no registration is required.  This explains how two pieces could be identical and both protected under the act, as well as why correspondence are copyright.  An agent from the United States told me that the best, and cheapest, way to ensure your work was copyright was to mail it to a lawyer and have the lawyer date stamp it and keep it for you.  Perhaps copyright is not concurrent with writing in the US?  Reading through the US version of the Copyright Act would probably clear this up, but I haven’t time for that at the moment.  Despite what my professor told us, I’ve heard Canadian writers say to mail a copy of your work to yourself and not open the envelope, and that will suffice to prove copyright in future.  Personally, I’ll take the word of my professor, but I’m curious to hear anyone else’s view on this.

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