Introduction to Copyright Law

Whether you are a creator or someone who uses the creative works of others, it is important to understand copyright law.  You may need to protect your own work, or you will need to know how to obtain permission to use others works.  Here is some basic knowledge of copyright law but you should always consult with a lawyer before pursuing legal action.

What is Copyrightable?

Two things are required for a copyright.  The work must be original, and the work must be written down, recorded, or otherwise fixed such as filmed, painted, typed, etc…  Some examples are books, magazines, newspapers, poems, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, sculptures, films, and designs.  Letters, speeches, and fictional characters are also copyrightable.

What is Not Copyrightable?

Though the requirements for copyrights are broad, there are several things that are not eligible for copyright.  Items that are excluded from the Copyright Act are ideas, plots, concepts, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, principles, and discoveries.  Facts are not copyrightable; however, a compilation of facts could be copyrightable.  Only the manner and order the facts are presented is copyrightable.  Names, titles, short phrases, Scenes-A-Faire, and stock characters are not copyrightable.

How Long Does a Copyright Last?

The Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect on January 1, 1978, states a copyright lasts the entire life of the author plus 50 years.  The Sonny Bono Act of 1998 extended this to the life of the author plus 70 years.  What about anything created prior to 1978?  Anything published between 1964 and 1977 was given a 28-year copyright with an automatic 67-year extension for a total of 95 years, only if the copyright holder filed their renewal application.  Anything published between 1923 and 1963 was given a 28-year copyright with the option to renew for another 67 years for a total of 95 years.  Everything prior to 1923 is considered Public Domain.  Why is this important?  95 years after 1923 is 2018.  Every year from now on will add new works into the Public Domain.

Fair Use and Parody of Copyrighted Works

There are special situations where a copyrighted work can be used without permission.  The first is called fair use.  These include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.  The second is called parody, which is a form of commentary about an existing work or its author.  If something is borrowed from one work to comment on another, this is considered satire and may be copyright infringement.

Public Domain

Public Domain means the copyright has expired or one never existed for the work.  As mentioned earlier, everything prior to 1923 is Public Domain.  Works with a copyright prior to 1964 that did not renew their copyright are Public Domain.  The film Night of the Living Dead (1961) is in the Public Domain because the copyright holder did not renew the copyright and it expired.  Everything published between 1923 and 1977 has a maximum copyright protection of 95 years.  95 years after 1923 is 2018.  This means everything published in 1923 that was still under copyright protection fell into the Public Domain on January 1, 2019.  Everything published in 1924 fell into the Public Domain on January 1, 2020; and so on and so forth.  Some authors place their works in the Public Domain.  There is no official database of Public Domain works so it will require some research to determine if a specific work is in the Public Domain.

For more information involving copyrights, trademarks, and other entertainment rights, obtain a copy of Joy R Butler’s book The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle.  Also, always remember to back up and keep several copies of your intellectual property.

Fun Fact: A blog is another form of recording something; therefore, everything you post on your blog is copyrighted.

Coffee & Contemplation: 5 Things Writing Poetry Has Done for Me

I have written poetry for close to 18 years. That’s a long time to do anything. In that time, I’ve written about 500 poems. That’s a lot of poetry. Someone once said, “An artist has to draw 10,000 bad pictures before they start drawing good one.” This is true in writing as well. I wouldn’t call myself a master, but after years of study and practice, I know a thing or two. I want to share my knowledge with other writers and aspiring writers. I’ll start simple with what writing poetry has done for me.

1. Poetry Helped Me Heal

I didn’t express emotions as a child or young adult. This was a survival technique I developed. I didn’t talk about or deal with my emotions. I started writing poetry in high school. The more I wrote, the easier it was for me to express my emotions. After several years, I could talk about how I was feeling. If I’m struggling with something, or upset, I’ll write to help collect my thoughts and clear my mind. Poetry was my gateway to overcoming my childhood trauma. I’m still healing.

2. Poetry Is My Hobby

I only get bored when I’m not writing or working on a project. It’s my favorite thing to do and it keeps me busy. I enjoy learning about new types or poetry, or new ways to present poetry to potential audiences. There are a lot of cool things happening from the Poetry Society of New York. I also plan to share my hobby with others to help them strengthen their own writing.

3. Poetry Improved My Writing

I write fiction and nonfiction as well as poetry. My writing in these areas has improved because I started with poetry. Writing poems with certain restrictions (rhyme schemes, meter, etc…) required me to find different ways to say similar things. This increased my vocabulary and even how I speak. It makes writing metaphors and similes easier as well.

4. Poetry Helped Me Appreciate Different Perspectives

One thing I like to explore with poetry is point of view. I play around sometimes with who is speaking in a poem. I once wrote a poem from the perspective of a building looking down on humans. I find myself having less trouble looking at things from somewhere other than my own eyes. I try to argue less and learn more about someone else’s viewpoint. Seeing things from the eyes of others makes me a better human being. I can cultivate that through writing poetry.

5. Poetry Strengthened My Creative Expression

After almost two decades, I am a strong writer. I stopped writing poetry for a while believing that chapter in my life was over. Through inspiration from a close friend, I started writing poetry again and that’s when I found my voice. That’s when I decided writing was my life purpose and I needed to find more ways to write. I also have branched out to photography, another type of storytelling. I don’t think I can live without creating something every day.

Many of the people I’ve met either like poetry or they don’t. There is no in-between. Poetry is not for everyone. If you’re reading this, I’ll bet that you enjoy writing and reading poetry. Don’t expect overnight success. Most poets don’t reach fame in their lifetime. And many more never earn a living with their poetry. I write poetry for myself. And I enjoy sharing it with others. I hope this inspires someone to write more poetry. I imagine a kid trying to learn how to see the world as I had. Good luck in your writing endeavors.

The Elements of Poetry Part 2: Rhyme

For week two of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The second in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Rhyme. A poem need not rhyme but the use of this element can enhance the goals of the writer. The lyrics of many songs rhyme adding a sing-song effect to the rhythm of the lyrics or poem. There are a few ways one can create repetitive patterns of sound in poetry that most people are not aware.

Rhyme is most often identical sounds or similar sounds placed at the end of lines. Identical sounds called hard-rhymes (true, blue) and similar sounds called soft-rhymes (hate, fake). These hard and soft-rhymes can occur in the middle of lines depending on the effect the writer wants. Another type of repetition of sound is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of letters or letter sounds at the beginning of two or more words (Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers). Assonance and Consonance are other ways to create repetitive patterns of sound.

Assonance is the use of similar vowel sounds within a word as opposed to the beginning or end of a word (go slow over the road). Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound throughout a sentence without putting it at the beginning of words (some mammals are clammy). Rhyme schemes are a structured way of using repetitive patterns. Labeled as “aabb” where the first two lines of a poem rhyme and the following two rhyme. But the four lines do not use the same rhyme sound. Classic structured form poetry uses rhyme schemes more than contemporary poetry. 

I recommend writers play around with different patterns of sound in their poetry. It develops the mastery of language. This device can benefit writing prose as well but only when used in small amounts. Repetitions of sound in poetry are most effective with spoken word poetry.