04/07/2011
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The law for writers - how to protect your writing copyright online

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‘I’m currently finding my feet with my website, and am keen to post my work online, but other members of my writers’ group say that’s not a good idea. They say my work would then count as “published” and not be usable elsewhere. Is this true? I must admit, I am also rather worried about plagiarism. Is there any way to protect my work online, so that it could not be stolen? My ideas are quite unusual, so I’d be fairly worried about people nicking the ideas, if not the actual words.’
Your first question is about whether the work would count as ‘published’ and would not be useable elsewhere. There is no legal bar on reusing or republishing work which you have previously published, however publishers and the organisers of writing competitions may impose a requirement that the work has not been previously published. Depending on how they define publication for these purposes, publishing the work on your website may cause problems, but there is no general rule as to whether this will be the case as different organisations may well have different requirements.

In terms of protecting your work, you should put a copyright notice on it so that visitors to your website are put on notice that you own the copyright in it. Although this is not a legal requirement in the UK, it is advisable and is a practical step to take to reduce the risk that your work is copied.

However, English law does not give any protection to ideas alone, and only protects the way in which those ideas are expressed, ie the words you use. If your ideas are such that you want to keep them secret until you are published in print, it would be advisable not to put them on your website, and protect them on the basis of confidentiality. Once you put the ideas on your website, your ability to stop other people using them will be relatively limited.

Our legal advice comes from Helen Goldthorpe, an associate solicitor specialising in intellectual property and information technology law at Irwin Mitchell LLP.

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