“That to me is not light!,” A Lesson on Copyrighted Copy Writing

A recent State article detailed the tumultuous battle between local writer Mary Kent Hearon, whose WeeklyBeet.com blog harps on health and natural remedies, and super-star-turned-health-guru Gwyneth Paltrow. After a mutual college friend set the two up to chat about natural health habits, Paltrow apparently duplicated much of Hearon’s original work in her own blog, Goop.com.

While still in fierce litigation, the story illustrates an important point for anyone in the writing/advertising/overall marketing business (either personally or professionally): don’t steal other people’s stuff. Though copyright law is continually violated and usually only enforced if the original author finds out, copyright infringement is still a valid risk. There’s a whole government office devoted to it.

So, to avoid unnecessary legal hassle, repeat the following mantra to yourself regularly, and especially when entering into a questionable copyright quandary. “ANY CREATIVE WORK FIXED IN A TANGIBLE MEDIUM IS INHERENTLY COPYRIGHTED.” That’s right. The U.S. Copyright and Patent Office used to process millions of copyright requests each year to verify original work and use of the copyright symbol, but this system is no more. Now any creative endeavor from music to books to BLOGS is automatically under the author’s complete control for purposes of use and reproduction, so long as the work is recorded on a CD, written down on paper or saved in cyberspace.

So what happens when you do want to use someone else’s copyrighted work, but with their permission and without claiming it as your own? The best way is just to ask the author. Regardless of whether you get a resounding “no” or a whopping invoice for the use, both options are better than messy, protracted and publicized litigation. Just a friendly reminder from your neighborhood marketing guru (move over Gwyneth)!

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