What is a Literary Copyright?

G. Wiesen

A literary copyright is a form of intellectual property protection that covers works of literature such as short stories, novels, and other similar works. This type of copyright is established the moment a person writes a work of literature and exists regardless of any perceived literary merit or financial value that someone may place on a written work. The writer of a work can also register a copyright with an appropriate government or private agency that handles copyright registration in his or her country. A literary copyright typically protects the work against infringement and establishes that written work as the property of the copyright owner.

Literary copyright is a form of property protection that covers works of literature.
Literary copyright is a form of property protection that covers works of literature.

Much like other forms of copyright protection, a literary copyright is established for a written work at the moment in which the writer actually creates the work by writing it. This can be done using a pen and paper or typewriter to create a physical copy of the work, or it may be done using a computer to make a digital copy of the writing. The medium does not matter, only the act of creation and the transfer of an idea into a real form that is protected by a literary copyright.

Copyright protection exists for a work under literary copyright regardless of whether others may view it as “literature.” There is no preference offered to a work of wide renown compared to a short story that someone will never publish. The act of writing a story or similar work ensures protection for that work and ownership of the literary copyright by the writer.

Should the writer wish to gain greater protection for his or her work, however, then he or she may want to register the literary copyright with an appropriate agency in his or her country. Some countries have a government agency that handles copyright registration, such as the US Copyright Office; while other countries allow private agencies to handle copyright registration, such as the UK. While registration of a copyright is not required to guarantee legal protection of a work, it can make that protection easier to defend if necessary.

The owner of a literary copyright is typically the writer of the work, though in some situations the owner may be someone who is paying the writer to write the work. A copyright owner can also sell that copyright to someone else, just like any other form of property, and the new owner gains all the rights the original owner had. Copyright ownership allows someone to sell the rights to use a work or to license someone else to use a work in return for royalties on it. Ownership also grants the ability to pursue legal action against anyone who uses a copyright without permission, which is called infringement.

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