Conferences and Copyrights

Most authors attend a writers’ conference at least once (for many, at least once a year) in a writing career. (If you haven’t, I recommend it highly, for many reasons.) Conferences are a gold mine of information, education, and opportunities to make connections and reconnect with friends. And, like every other part of the publishing business, conferences raise some copyright questions for authors. Today, we’re taking a look at a couple of the most common conference copyright questions.

1. Workshop handouts are copyrighted, and belong to the workshop presenter (or handout creator.) This means attendees cannot reproduce, distribute, or share workshop handouts without the creator’s permissions. If you think a handout is useful, or want to re-blog or share it in some way, ask the presenter for permission first. Many presenters will grant permission, either at the time or via an email after the conference–but some may not. Respect that, too.

You can blog about the workshop’s contents, and your experiences. Just don’t reproduce the handouts word for word (or plagiarize them) without permission.

2. Sample pages submitted to conference round tables and critique sessions are copyrighted, and belong to the author. (If they’re your pages, that’s you.) You don’t need to put the copyright symbol and date on every page. Copyright attaches automatically at creation. It should go without saying, but: you can’t copy someone’s sample pages or steal their plot.

3. Don’t worry about someone stealing your log line or pitch. It’s OK to talk about your concept at conferences. I often run into new authors who refuse to talk about a work because they fear someone stealing the idea. Sometimes ideas do get stolen, but it’s rare, especially when the manuscript is written (or under way). Also: editors and agents will not steal your concepts. It’s far less trouble to just acquire your book.

One caveat: charlatans and those who set out to defraud or steal from authors will do so, regardless of the circumstances — but they’re rare at conferences.

A good rule of thumb for discussing your work is: if you’re still at the “high concept/no writing” phase, keep it close to the vest. Once you’ve written the manuscript, however, it’s generally OK to talk at conferences.


And here’s one last tip that’s a little more specific: If you see me at a writers’ conference, don’t hesitate to say hello, or to ask legal questions if you have them. Whether I’m appearing as an attorney or as an author, if I’m out and about, I love meeting people and it’s not an imposition.

Next month, I’m teaching two workshops at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold conference, including one on contract negotiation. I’m actually team teaching the contract negotiation workshop with Terri Bischoff, the Acquisitions Editor for Midnight Ink. We’ll be dissecting a publishing contract and sharing which clauses are (and are not) negotiable, and why. My autumn publishing legal series will share a few of the tips and tactics from that workshop, too.

Now: get out there and enjoy the writers’ conferences!

Do you attend conferences? Which one is your favorite?