I am a freelance writer. Who owns my copyright? – Copyright


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As a freelance writer, it is essential to have a solid
understanding of how
copyright works
. For instance, if you are writing for a
newspaper, magazine or blog, it may be unclear who owns your
work’s copyright. In any event, checking the contract terms
before agreeing to write for a company is critical. This article
will explain who owns the copyright to your work as a freelance
writer and an employee.

Freelancers Own the Copyright in Their Works

In Australia, copyright is a free and automatic right
applies to all creative works, including literary or artistic works
such as:

  • books;

  • paintings;

  • photographs; and

  • computer source code.

Additionally, copyright applies to much broader subject matters,
such as:

  • sound recordings;

  • films; or

  • broadcasts.

Therefore, you are the work owner if you create original work
such as an article, report, script or interview. Enforcing
copyright on your material allows you to stop third parties from
using the protected material without your permission,

  • publishing;

  • modifying; or

  • adapting your work.

In Australia, you do not need to
formally register a copyright to enforce it.

If you are a freelance writer or independent journalist, you
must check the terms of your contract carefully. The fine print of
the terms will often contain details about who owns the copyright
in the material you write and when and how the material may be
used. Negotiating the terms you are offering to license or
publishing your work with a publisher is also possible.

Determine if You Are a Freelance Writer or an Employee

While freelancers generally own the copyright in their writing,
contracted employees do not. Instead, employers are likely to own
the copyright in works created by an employee during their

It may not always be clear if you are a freelancer or an
employee. However, factors that indicate that a person is an
employee include:

  • a regular salary;

  • PAYG

  • superannuation contributions; and

  • the employer provides equipment and resources to carry out the

If you are unsure about your status as a freelancer or employee,
you should seek legal advice. A lawyer can help mitigate the use of
the material you create and set the terms on which your publisher
can reproduce and use your writing. A unique exception exists for
journalists employed by a newspaper or publisher. While their
employer owns the copyright in their articles as published, the
journalist retains the copyright in their material for other
specified purposes—for instance, the reproduction in a

Transferring Ownership of Copyright to the Publisher

As a freelance
, a publisher may ask you to sign a contract transferring
your copyright ownership. First, however, it is crucial to
understand what rights you are transferring to the publisher. To
transfer your copyright ownership to another, this transfer must be
in writing, as per Australian copyright law. In addition, the
transfer of rights must identify the new owner of the copyright and
include their signature.

However, the publisher can still use your writing even if you do
not sign a transfer. This is because Australian copyright law
recognises ”implied rights” in favour of a
publisher or creative business engaging a freelancer. This right is
an implied licence to use the works for the purpose they were
commissioned. It is important to note that this right does not
extend to other purposes the parties did not consider.

For example, consider a creative agency that hires a freelance
food critic to review a new restaurant for the agency’s
website. The agency can publish the review on its website. However,
the agency could not use the review in a published magazine if the
freelancer did not previously agree to this.

The Author’s Moral Rights

Australian copyright law grants moral rights to all authors,
including freelancers and employees. So, the author will retain
their moral rights even if they have licensed the work to a
publisher. The three moral rights are the rights of:

  1. attribution;

  2. against false attribution; and

  3. integrity.

Moral Right Explanation
Attribution The right to be identified and named as the author of the
Against false attribution The right to stop others from being falsely credited for the
Integrity The right to ensure the work is not subject to derogatory
treatment that harms the author’s reputation.

Key Takeaways

As a freelance writer, you do not need to register or pay fees
to gain copyright protection over your work. As the original
author, you own the copyright. You can transfer ownership of your
copyright with a written assignment or licence. However, you will
still retain moral rights even if you do this. Therefore, it is
essential to check the terms of your contracts with clients and
publishers to understand how they will affect your rights.

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