JoAnn Johnson

Key Media Law Terms

As a writer, here are a few key terms you should be aware of…


All works created after 1977 are protected for the length of the author’s life and another 50 years thereafter.  After that, it falls into the public domain and anyone can use it without permission.

Technically, you do not need to place a copyright to your work.  It is protected the moment it leaps from your brain to the page.  However…

  • adding a copyright notice allows you to defeat claims of “innocent infringement”
  • you must register your work with the copyright office before you can file any type of  litigation against someone who steals your work.


  1. Request and complete the proper form…

FORM TX for books, manuscripts, online work, poetry
FORM PA for scripts and dramatic work

2. Place your completed form, payment of the current “register of copyright” fee and non-returnable copy or copies of the material to be registered.

The standard filing fee for electronic registration is $55 for basic claims. However, the filing fee is $35 if you register one work, not made for hire, and you are the only author and claimant. To access electronic registration, go to the Copyright Office’s website at

3. Mail to the Library of Congress Copyright Office at

U.S. Copyright Office 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000


Fair use is the principle of quoting, briefly, someone else’s work.

The United States judicial system has never clearly defined what is and is not limitations or tolerable when it comes to fair use.

In most cases, once you ask the publisher of the original work for permission, you can quote most works, but it is always a good idea to note the original source.


Libel is publishing a false statement that is damaging to another living person’s reputation.

The statement can be completely unintentional, but still be ruled as libel in a court of law.

It is up to the plaintiff (alleged victim of libel) to prove falsehood; however, it is up to the writer to prove you made every effort to be accurate.

Grounds for libel include:

  • misspelling a criminals’ name, implicating an innocent person
  • falsely state someone is dead, when they are actually alive
  • errors in sports stories
  • accidental bad editing
Freelance writers must always double-check their work, interviews, quotes and facts.
Information was gathered from the Writer’s Market Companion, 2nd Edition.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *