Mafoko Manuscript Services

Mafoko home page Resources home page


Any time you write a story or a poem or a book, you automatically have copyright to it. That means the content you have created by writing it is your property; i.e., you have the rights to decide on its publication, to get royalties on it, etc.

You have copyright until and unless you assign it to someone else. When you publish something, you get royalties or a fee or some kind of compensation for the use of that material. Authors make agreements with publishers about actually producing printed materials for sale. The publisher has to acknowledge, in some form or other, that the material is yours. Some publishers will write contracts that restrict you from publishing the material elsewhere for a certain period; this is most common with books and protects the publisher's investment in your material; they are, after all, trying to run a business.

Having the paper that a work is written on does not give copyright; that is, merely owning a paper copy of a work is different. After all, you probably own copies of books, but the authors of those books probably still own their copyright. So you will not lose copyright if you send your manuscript to a publisher.

Furthermore, just because someone edits your work does not mean that you lose copyright. If you have someone edit your work or otherwise look at it and make suggestions, the work still belongs to you. The only time copyright issues arise during the editing process is if the writer has plagiarised someone else's work. That is, if you just copy something that someone else wrote—this definition does not refer to changes that an editor suggests to your work—and then say that you wrote it, you are plagiarising and you can be sued for that. Similarly, if someone does the same thing to your work, they are plagiarising. Plagiarism is not common, but it is easy to protect yourself. In order to prove copyright and authorship, you need to prove that you wrote the work, and so it is a good idea to keep all drafts of your work to show that you worked on it and revised it.

These points are just to help you understand the very basics of copyright. There are many useful resources on the web that will help you understand the more complex issues concerning copyright.