THINKPIECE: The copyright symbol is a writer’s best friend, but we don’t want to see it on a press release

For writers, the copyright notice and its ramifications are sacrosanct.

For writers, the copyright notice and its ramifications are sacrosanct.

For writers, the copyright notice and its ramifications are


There’s no other viable way to safeguard the use and display of their

stories. Protection is a means of warding off would-be plagiarists,

collecting legal damages and announcing officially that the piece

belongs to the writer.

Like many a dedicated freelancer, every quarter I dutifully ship my

stock of new stories off to the US Copyright Office for


I learned the hard way that monetary damages cannot be collected without

that copyright certificate. No reputable writer would argue with the

value of the copyright - until now.

Why would PR pros use the symbol on press materials?

Several recent press kits contained such printed documents. Most of them

ended up in my garbage. Why? At this late stage of my career, I didn’t

want to leave myself open to accusations of plagiarism. After years of

picking up bits of information directly from press kits, it seemed odd

to think I might now be stealing material. But that’s what it would have

been, given the copyright notice.

Was it a mistake? Probably, but there were several instances. Various

press releases bore a note to credit such-and-such a writer. There was a

glossary with basic information and the same verbiage in one press kit.

Another contained a magazine with an admonition to those who would dare

to duplicate a sacred word.

Am I supposed to ask whether I can use this PR material when it was sent

to me to do just that? It makes no sense.

So what’s the deal? I am not sure. For one thing, it is standard

procedure for a publication to print a copyright notice for the design

and presentation, which includes the one-time use of the content. It

also means that the design and presentation cannot be duplicated without

permission. If you are placing copies of writers’ published stories in

the kit, then you had better clear it with the publications or simply

pay for reprints.

But if you expect a writer to use these stories, think again.

If you want to display a writer’s published story by itself, then ask

for permission before doing so. If there are copyright restrictions,


Perhaps an excerpt or quote will work just as well. If a professional

writer develops pieces for you, then they should look like your other

handouts. Any material in a press kit should be ready to use - without


Obviously, there needs to be a distinction between copyrights for

content and copyrights for design. As regards press materials, make them

totally available. Otherwise, you risk losing the writer’s attention and

subsequently his story.

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