Copyright Questions

Can you answer copyright questions, or refer me to someone who is knowledgeable?

I have two questions:

1. I write information articles for a corporation, under an executive’s byline. Most of the work is done through email, with no contract. If the company refuses to pay for a particular article – let’s say they claim I failed to do adequate research or did not submit a second rewrite – can I claim copyright infringement because of their use of my material of someone else’s byline? (Or do they protect against that by thoroughly revising the final draft?)

2. I write press releases for a nonprofit org as a volunteer, and submit to the PR manager via email attachments. The releases are published online (and in print) with the PR manager’s name, not mine. Sometimes they are revised without my knowledge before publication. I discovered the org used entire paragraphs from “my” releases in a monthly magazine. Should they 1) give me a byline and/or 2) pay me for the additonal use? My request for information about this was ignored. The magazine does not hire freelancers – articles are written in-house.

Perhaps I will send a letter indicating that my writing services from now on will be on a paid contract basis, with extra compensation to be negotiated for future use in any form. They will get the message.

Corporations (as opposed to nonprofits) typically pay about $400-600 per release, often in monthly packages including press contacts.)

Thank you for your assistance.


1. If someone uses your article, even if they rewrite part of it, and then fail to pay you AND put someone else’s name on it, that is absolutely copyright infringement. This sounds like a lame excuse used by a horrible person that never had any intention of paying you for your hard work.

2. This one depends on your original contract with the organization. They may claim it was work for hire (or, volunteer for hire, for lack of a better term) and claim they own all rights to it.

Even if you have to write your own contract, don’t write without one, even when writing for free! You can then insert any clause you want.

And, I have a big beef with non-profits. Non-profit doesn’t mean you don’t make any money. It just means you can’t show a profit at the end of the year. This, in turn, means they must spend all their money, often on inflated directors’ salaries. Do you know how much the head of the Red Cross makes each year? $495,000 per year! No, I didn’t accidentally add a zero there.

And, many non-profits use that term (we’re non-profit so we can’t spend any money) to try to sucker writers into working for them. Believe me, the money is there or they wouldn’t be in business. They ARE getting contributions and using that money to pay for services. They just don’t want you to be the one who gets paid for your hard work. If they’re paying for other services, why shouldn’t they pay for writing services, too?