Copyright: Do you know the basics?

Baffled by copyright? Want to know where you can find more information about your rights as a writer? We've pulled together the resources on our website to help you navigate everything to do with copyright and the writing life.

Copyright FAQs

Copyright should be a simple concept – but in reality, it rarely is. Understanding a contract and tackling difficulties with a third party can be particularly complicated.

For example:

  • What are ‘restricted acts’ and ‘copyright exceptions’?
  • What exactly is the difference between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ royalties?
  • How do you ‘register’ your copyright? (Clue: You don’t need to).

>> Read our copyright basics for writers.


Contracts can be a thorny business, and writers often sign them without fully understanding the terms. This can have huge ramifications for your ability to make money from your work in the long run, especially if a contract restricts you from fully exploiting your rights. We recommend our members always retain the ability to receive payments for their secondary rights. This allows us to collect the money owed to you when third parties reproduce, lend or rebroadcast your work.

Basic principles of fair contracts

Not all contracts are unfair, but it can be difficult to know what is reasonable when signing a contract, even if it’s not the first time you’ve entered into one. Contracts can be full of stipulations that someone who is not a legal expert won’t understand. Some writers, sadly, are so happy to be offered a commission that entering into negotiation over the terms with a publisher can seem ungrateful.

A good place to start to get to grips with some basic principles is the International Authors Forum’s (IAF) Ten Principles for Fair Contracts. These clearly lay out the basic fair principles for writers, alongside their unfair equivalents.

>> Read the IAF’s Ten Principles for Fair Contracts.

Rights reversion

Contracts sometimes stipulate that the right to publish a book belongs to the publisher unless the book goes out of print or sales fall below a certain level. This clause varies, but authors who want to try to revive a work by self-publishing can potentially regain their rights through the ‘out-of-print’ or ‘reversion of rights’ clause in their contracts. Find out more about rights reversion in the video below.

>> Read more about contracts.

Which other organisations can help me?

If you’re not signed up to receive UK and Irish Public Lending Right (PLR), then you probably should be. PLR is a legal right to payment from the Government each time your books are borrowed from public libraries. While ALCS pays overseas PLR to members from countries in which we have agreements, you need to register separately with PLR UK for UK and Irish PLR.

You may also want to consider joining a writers’ union, like the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), the Society of Authors (SoA) or the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The advice of such organisations can come in very handy when you need contract vetting or legal advice.

If you are a film director or are a visual artist, you may be interested in joining Directors UK or DACS. These are collecting societies that work on similar principles to ALCS.

>> Read how to contact the above organisations.

Other useful resources