Copyright can arise automatically through the mere ac of setting words to paper. You do not have specifically to apply for copyright in your written material since it is vested in you as soon as it is written down. If you are writing a letter on behalf of an employer, however, the copyright naturally vests in the firm, not in you. If you are merely noting down your thoughts on paper in a general kind of way, however, this cannot be deemed to have created a copyright idea. You do not have legal protection over mere ideas.
Copyright is a ‘civil’ action. However blatant the copying, it is not a crime to reproduce your words in another forum. It way, however, is a civil offence and the offender may be liable to pay you damages. You may also be able to take out an injunction (a legal order that stops someone doing something), preventing that person from copying your work anymore. Copyright in your work will remain vested in you or your family for seventy years after you death.
Inserting the familiar symbol’#2000 by Joe Blogs’ at the bottom of any letter containing original material is not strictly necessary in English law, but may be worth doing when in doubt.
Other people’s copyright
As other have a duty not to copy your work, so you have a legal duty not to copy other people. Ifyou wish to quote something that someone else has said or written, bear in mind the following points:
- Is the material factual, news or public information?
- If not, do you know who the author is?
- Has the author been dead for seventy years?If not, have you requested permission from that person, or their agent, to copy their work?
Bear in mind that lists of information or data compiled by other people may be copyright material, even if the information itself is well know. You cannot use someone else’s database without getting permission.
If you are writing a letter for academic purposes, however, and no money is involved, then you may claim ‘air dealing’ for research purposes an infringement of copyright. As a general guideline, quoting too long a section of someone else’s text is probably a bad thing. Also remember that, whether or not the work is copyright, it is always a good idea to acknowledge your sources.