Getting back in the saddle, with a peek at copyright law

The pen is mightier than the sword.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy

Hey, guys, it’s been two mighty quick weeks of vacation, and I’m back from the Pacific Northwest. It was summer there. It might even have been summer here, too, but it was not when we left, and it’s not now, so I guess we missed it in the redwoods this year. Bummer about that.

Portland, Oregon, for those who don’t know, is a beautiful city. Truly. Clean, uncluttered, safe (compared to San Francisco), with a fabulous light-rail system and tree-lined streets, a huge, blue river, a vital downtown district, and—the cherry on the pie—Powell’s Books. In the summer it’s spectacular. My husband and I were both ready to pack up and move.

Except, of course, that it’s a city, and in real life we live on ten acres in the backwoods, where the only noise at night is the local fox barking its bizarre disco-y cough-like bark. Also, I lived in the Pacific Northwest for twelve years between the ages of 13 and 25, and I know what it’s like to survive unrelenting rain and cold for nine months out of the year.

But summertime. . .wow. We are so going back for OSCON every year from now on, for as long as they’ll take us.

Also, an amazing thing happened while I was gone. My last post, 6 Personality Types Who Will Succeed as Writers, along with its companion post, 6 Personality Types Who Will Fail as Writers, got tweeted and linked to all over the place out there, bringing in, frankly, quite a few more readers than I normally get, even when I’m here in the trenches blogging dutifully away all the time.

What do I learn from this? Apparently, I could scale way back on the blogging. So I’m going to scale way the heck back on the blogging. Because all that writing and advice was taking a lot out of me, and I have a magazine to maintain and clients to edit. In fact, I have a very full roster in August indeed.

I can’t wait.

Also, as happens every once in a great while, some unsophisticated hopeful out there reprinted an entire post on a forum, thinking—I know not why—this would make them look smart. Well, no. It doesn’t. It makes them look like they don’t understand how the Internet works or what online copyright is. It also makes them look rude.

People, I really, sincerely appreciate your appreciation. It’s happy joy-joy stuff. Gives the time I spend online meaning. Absolutely.

But please don’t be rude. And please don’t make yourself look stupid, or I’ll waste time feeling terrible for you, and that’ll interfere with my real work.

So today I’m going to refresh everyone’s memory about copyright. This is straight off my own copyright page, which you can find if you glance vaguely around my blog header for the copyright symbol.

Yep. That’s it.

Everything you write is copyrighted automatically when you write it, writers. Just so you know.

Everything on A. Victoria Mixon, Editor is copyrighted. Because I’ve written it, now, haven’t I? That means I don’t want anyone lifting any of the posts and posting them elsewhere without express written permission. (From me.) Not even just big chunks of posts.

However, there is a little wiggle room in copyright law, and there’s a good reason for this.

1) It’s okay to re-post a sentence or two or even a paragraph or two in a periodical under the copyright clause “for review purposes.” This means you’re citing it so you can express an opinion, and this loophole was originally designed to allow periodical book reviewers to spread the love. It works exactly the same way on the Internet so long as you cite it properly and include a link to the author’s site.

(If you don’t include the citation and link, it’s plagiarism—the very worst type of copyright violation—and you’ll get a Cease & Desist letter and possibly your ass sued by the rightful owner.)

Personally, I like to know if you’re doing this so I can keep track of what’s out there. But it’s okay, either way, so long as you cite it properly as coming from me and include a link to

2) IMPORTANT! This wiggle room does not work for your published works that are not periodicals.

This means if you want to quote someone else in your book or novel, you or your publisher has to get their express written permission. Even for epigrams. Many authors—especially famous ones—charge for this privilege, because they and their publishers have a huge vested professional interest in making sure their works are not re-used by random authors latching onto their coattails.

Prentice Hall paid for the cartoons my co-author chose for re-print in our book. (For my money, Michael Cunningham should have had to get Virginia Woolf’s express written permission for what he did to Mrs. Dalloway’s Party in The Hours, although I’m sure her copyright holder was happy enough to endorse the checks.)

3) Links are all goodness. I link to you guys, too. The Internet is one big ole snuggly interconnected network.

Remember, everyone: copyright protects you as well as the authors you read. These laws apply to your own works, keeping the world of written words fair for everyone. It’s not a profession if you don’t get paid for your work.

And writers are professionals.

Besides, no one wants to get whacked upside the head with something even mightier than a sword.

If you wonder what can happen to a good-faith editor who happens to have been online for a long time, check out the Book Editing Associates Hall of Shame. Lynda Lotman has had a lot of her material lifted over the years by the named people and associations.

For more on copyright law, try the University of Texas at Austin (or here if you’re in the UK).

2 thoughts on “Getting back in the saddle, with a peek at copyright law

  1. Kathryn says:

    Hi Victoria,

    Glad you’re back!

    Good info. about copyrighting. The internet has made it entirely too easy to cheat.

    My high schoolers’ teachers are super tough on students about it (everything goes through and my son knows a girl who was suspended from college for plagiarizing. People in the academic community are diligently working on it.

    It makes me sad that professional writers try to get away with it. Gosh, being authentic and telling our own stories are what brought us to writing in the first place. If you’ve run out of words, it’s time for something else. To be listed in a writing hall of shame as long as the internet is up would be horrible.

    And then there is all that legal recourse…ouch.


  2. Victoria says:

    Thanks, Kathryn!

    Yes, plagiarism had a real hey-day for awhile there. It’s still a major problem, but the schools, at least, are making an effort to get a handle on it.

    More and more I see indications that paying sites are the future of the blogosphere. That way writers will have some way to control the use and re-use of their work, and readers will have some assurance that what they’re ascribing to a particular writer actually originated with that writer.

    There will always be those running wild on the freebie side, and that’s certainly their prerogative. But, just like self-publishing, anarchy will not turn out to be a workable long-term operating model.

    Anarchy as a social system relies entirely on the cooperation of the participants. And human history simply does not indicate we’re any good at that in large numbers.

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