Copyright for Writers

More from the world of my PTLLS course …

My fellow learners and I each had to choose a piece of legislation affecting adult education tutors and give a short presentation to a small group. I decided to look at copyright law because of its direct impact on creative writing tutors, who may use extracts from other people’s work as examples in a class. This is a brief summary of what I came up with:

It is an infringement of copyright to do any of the following in relation to a substantial part of a work protected by copyright without the consent of the copyright owner:

  • copy it
  • issue copies of it to the public
  • rent or lend it to the public
  • perform or show it in public
  • communicate it to the public

The important word here is substantial.  It is subjective and the quality, importance or significance of the extract are as important as the quantity of words – using just four lines of a poem or even a four word extract have been found to be substantial.

Tutors working in colleges or similar places will probably be covered by the institution’s CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) licence. In brief, this allows tutors to copy up to 5% of a published item e.g. one chapter of a book, a single article from a magazine, a ‘reasonable’ amount of text from a website. The source should always be cited on the copy and copies can only be given to students and members of staff.

The money collected from the sale of these licences is distributed back to writers via ALCS (Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society), PLS (Publishers Licensing Society) and DACS (Design and Artists’ Copyright Society). If you’ve ever had an article or story published in a magazine make sure you register with ALCS to get your share of this money.

However, tutors who work independently in the private sector have to purchase their own CLA license or obtain the permission of the author or publisher each time they want to use an excerpt.
Alternatively it may be best to avoid using other people’s work and make up examples instead.

With all the cuts in local council spending, I guess more tutors may be forced to teach privately so the above is just something to be aware of.

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  1. #1 by jac dowling on January 30, 2015 - 11:06 am

    Thanks for this Sally. Does the 50 year ruling apply in the case of quoting or does the copyright remain with the publishers – as in the case of Beatrix Potter ?

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on January 30, 2015 - 8:37 pm

      I thought copyright only lasted until 70 years after the death of the author – so you’re OK quoting from Shakespeare, Dickens etc. But I didn’t know about the case of Beatrix Potter. I’ve just had a quick Google & Wikipedia says, “Potter left almost all the original illustrations for her books to the National Trust. The copyright to her stories and merchandise was then given to her publisher Frederick Warne & Co, now a division of the Penguin Group. On January 1, 2014, the copyright expired in the UK and other countries with a 70-years-after-death limit.” But I wouldn’t like to pass official judgement about whether that means her work is or isn’t still in copyright.

      • #3 by jac dowling on January 31, 2015 - 8:26 am

        Thanks Sally, this is helpful I’ll poke around a bit and see what pops up – anything useful will be passed on to you!

  2. #4 by hilarycustancegreen on January 30, 2015 - 8:36 pm

    Interesting. The creative writing tutor on a recent course I attended mostly brought books along and read us a short extracts. I do remember photocopies of a whole short story, which we read and returned.

    • #5 by Sally Jenkins on January 30, 2015 - 9:04 pm

      That tutor may have had a CLA license, Hilary or possibly permission to use the short story.

  3. #6 by Patsy on January 31, 2015 - 11:17 am

    So it might be OK to use a whole short story, if it’s taken from an anthology or somewhere such as Fiction Feast?

    • #7 by Sally Jenkins on January 31, 2015 - 7:42 pm

      Yes, Patsy, as long as you or your college have the CLA licence, that’s how I understand it. That’s what the ALCS money is for – to compensate us for people (who have a CLA licence) using our stories/articles.

  4. #8 by blogaboutwriting on January 31, 2015 - 11:20 pm

    Hmm, interesting, Sally. Must admit, I am guilty of occasionally using/reading out extracts of short stories, poems, etc in my classes – by people other than myself! – and hadn’t thought about copyright! Any idea how much a CLA license costs?

    • #9 by Sally Jenkins on February 1, 2015 - 11:44 am

      The website doesn’t give specific prices, Helen. It just says from £128 + VAT. Might be worth contacting them directly.

  5. #10 by scribblingscribes on February 1, 2015 - 2:24 am

    Thanks Sally, lots of useful info.

  6. #11 by Helen Adlam on February 8, 2015 - 11:38 am

    Your copyright article is really interesting and has made me wonder if I’m in breach of the law. I run creative writing workshops in schools or as an after-school activity but work freelance. Can I read short extracts from books for the children to listen to? I hadn’t considered the copyright issue. Any idea? Thanks!

    • #12 by Sally Jenkins on February 8, 2015 - 11:49 am

      Thanks for dropping by, Helen. I don’t profess to be a copyright expert, I’m just sharing my thoughts here. Why don’t you check with the school you work in and see if you are automatically covered by their licence, even though you are freelance? I tend to think that reading short extracts aloud to children might be OK – I think the real danger would be if you are using material from the books to create handouts/worksheets etc. Hope that helps. Hopefully the school will say you are covered anyway!

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