Curious about copyright?

Subject: Curious about copyright?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 10:32:55 -0500


Joyce Fetterman wonders: <<Couldn't you include a clause in a contract
stating that you (the writer) retain the copyright to the material until
such time as the client pays the bill, at which point you provide them a
release?>>

You certainly could include such a clause, and in fact, many freelancers
strongly recommend doing so. This protects you against nonpayment, among
other things; for example, if the client goes ahead and publishes the work
without paying you, they've clearly violated your copyright. The obvious
problem is that not all clients will accept this clause, since they know
exactly why you're inserting it. In that case, I suppose it depends how well
you trust the client.

Although there's some precedent in law* for work belonging to the client as
a "work for hire" unless otherwise specified in the contract, it never hurts
to make this explicit--or to explicitly reject it. If you're planning to
reuse the material, you should insert a clause in the contract that
specifies what rights you expect to retain to the work (e.g., the right to
resell the writing to someone else). If the client accepts and signs the
contract, then nobody can deny you these rights, provided that the
assignment of the rights is legal in the first place; for example, it's
theoretically not possible to assign "moral rights" to a document.

* I'm not a lawyer, but I've sat in on discussions of this issue by lawyers
and freelancers who have hired lawyers to look into the matter for them. You
can probably turn up some of these discussions in the techwr-l archives, as
well as in the copyediting-l archives if you're a subscriber to that list.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada


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