Under the Copyright Act of 1976, establishing copyright ownership on newly created material is a fairly straightforward process. Registration with the Copyright Office is no longer required to secure protection, although there may be instances, particularly in cases of litigation, where a registration is helpful. We’ll address those issues in upcoming posts. Copyright protection on all works published after January 1, 1978 lasts seventy years (70) after the death of the author.

Things become a bit more complicated when there are two or more writers involved in a book or project. In these cases, it is vital to fully understand how copyright law affects these works to ensure that your rights remain protected.


Multiple Authors

Books written by two or more authors in which the work is shared evenly, meaning that there is no clear separation between one author’s work and another are protected under a singular copyright. Copyright protection ends seventy (70) years after the death of the last living author of the work. Each author must be credited by name to ensure protection.

Anthologies and other works in which writers contribute a specific portion of the work are handled differently. Both the collective work as a whole and the individual author retain copyright protection. In these instances, the individual author retains his or her copyright for the portion of the work provided without legal claim to the work as a whole.


Work For Hire

Unlike collaborative projects between two authors, works for hire are distinctive in that these pieces are specifically written for someone else. They may be completed during the normal course of business with the company you work for. Examples may include pamphlets, brochures, trade manuals, or public relations materials. In these cases, the company, not the individual author, retains the copyright for the work produced. This is true regardless of how many individual authors work on the project.

Likewise, works that are completed by a ghostwriter or in which the writing is contracted out is considered a work for hire. The copyright protection is owned by the customer (ie the person who is paying for the work) and NOT the individual author.

Protection for these types of works last for ninety-five (95) years from the date of publication OR one hundred and twenty (120) years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.


Anonymous and Pseudonymous Works

Works that are published anonymously or under pen names are protected much like works for hire. Since there is no living individual author or authors named, these books retain copyright protection for ninety-five (95) years from the date of publication OR one hundred and twenty (120) years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

However, if the author or authors register the pseudonym with the Copyright Office, then the full individual copyright protections are enforced. In the case of multiple authors, this would be seventy (70) years from the death of the last surviving author.

If you have additional questions about copyright protection and collaborative works, contact Willow Bend Publishing Group. Willow Bend Publishing Group is a woman owned publishing company designed to assist independent authors navigate the ever changing world of publishing.

Founded in July of 2017, Southern Willow Publishing provides a comprehensive selection of services for today’s independent author.

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