Journalism is the profession of turning information into money. Copyright law protects this by preventing work from being stolen.
A journalist has the right to their work. It is by selling this right that a journalist can earn money. But ‘information’ is not valuable, since there is no copyright in mere information. The journalist must turn this information into news before it is something which can be sold.
For a journalist, selling their work is selling the rights to that work. It is intellectual property, and the law sees no distinction between work done by hand or by brain. Anything you create, you own absolutely- it is a residual right which you can sign away.
There are three ways in which you can normally sell the right to your intellectual work:
1. If on the staff (fully employed with legal employment procection) of a broadcaster or newspaper or website, it is likely that you surrender the right to commercial exploitation of your work. However, since the 1988 Copyright Act you do retain moral rights: You must be identified as the author of the work, and you have a right to protect the work from being altered in any way which would denigrate you if identified as the author of the work.
2. You can negotiate a different contact of employment which gives you some rights to royalties if your work is resold (syndication*), but you’ll usually get paid a smaller wage. Or you can be a freelance journalist. This means you retain the rights to you work and licence its use to publishers or broadcasters. These can be exclusive or non-exclusive rights. After an agreed period of time the copyright returns to you.
3. You can get ripped-off. This would generally be a case of signing over all rights for not much money.
*Syndication is a right which a journalist has unless he chooses to sell it. You will get an additional fee for this, which will allow the buyer of the work the right to sell it on.
There is no copyright in ideas, facts or information; only work done is protected. The only way a particular work can be protected is if it’s a brand-name.
There is something called passing-off. This is a Bad Thing. Passing-off is presenting someone else’s work as your own. This can be done with brand-names also.
Another area of concern is photography, stills and video, which are easily available from the internet. Thanks to the 1988 Copyright Act, photographers have moral rights over their own work, so using a photograph requires permission or payment.
Fair Dealing is a defence against breach of copyright. You can use this if the work you lifted was already public and if you’ve not tried to make money from it. You must not try to pass-off the work as your own and your defence is stronger if the use of the work is in the public interest.
Our fabulous lecturer, Chris Horrie, tries to copyright himself here