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Boxer copywriter with text Copywriter vs Copyright

A copywriter is a person who writes marketing materials for promotional purposes. Copyright is a legal term that refers to ownership of a piece of intellectual property. That can be a photo, a painting, a written piece, code, music or film.

I play football for a social team, with people from all different backgrounds, IT guys, builders, plumbers even a pilot. After the game, sitting in the bar with all the players, the question, “so, what do you do Steve?” invariably crops up in the conversation.

When I tell people I am a copywriter, there is a good chance I get a blank stare followed by, “Is that got something to do with copyright?” It has happened so often, I thought I’d write a post about it.

What is a copywriter?

There are many different types of copywriter and you can find a more complete account of the different types here but essentially; the job of a copywriter is to write commercial messages for brands and companies. We help sell stuff.

Whether that is writing scripts for videos and radio commercials, social media posts, headlines for posters, landing pages, email marketing or online content. The job of a copywriter is to write persuasive text that gets people to act.

Companies want to build email lists, get subscribers, followers on social media and ultimately, they want people buy their products or services. But just think how many messages you see in a day. Your eyes and ears are bombarded. It’s hard to stand out. That’s why they’ll turn to a professional copywriter.

A good writer builds a connection and guides the reader, giving them the information he or she needs to make a decision.

Words are their stock and trade. You don’t have to be a great wordsmith either (but it helps). You do have to be a good communicator, so write in a way that’s easy to understand, be empathetic to your reader, and get to the point. Do that and you can be a copywriter.

Copyright sign with text "Keep your hands off"

What is a copyright?

We’ve all seen the © symbol somewhere. On an album, the bottom of a webpage, a watermark on a photo. This copyright symbol tells us who the content belongs to. It says, “This is mine, keep your hands off, you can’t use it unless I say so.”

A copyright law has been around for a few hundred years. The first legal copyright statute, called the Statute of Anne, appeared in 1710 in England to protect the rights of an author. Literally, the right to copy a manuscript and publish it.

This idea was slowly adopted around the world to protect author’s rights. Partly due to the Berne Convention in Switzerland and later, countries that wanted to join the World Trade Organisation had to establish minimum levels of copyright protection.

Today, copyright laws exist to protect the creators of original content span the globe, although the laws vary from country to country.

Nowadays copyright is applied to writing, photos, art, film, audio, performances, maps and computer games. It gives exclusive rights to the author or creator of an original work, which includes the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. Copyright does not protect ideas, only the tangible expression of those ideas.

Did you know, Warner Chappell tried to copyright the Happy Birthday song

Do copywriters write copyrights?

This was the assumption of all my footballing mates that I was somehow involved in writing legal documents about copyright ownership. But that is not the case. Lawyers will determine who owns the copyright of a piece of work.

Copyright is not the same as a patent or trademark.

That said:

Copyright applies to an original written work, art, photos etc. Patents can be applied to inventions and discoveries. A trademark can be applied to phrases, symbols or designs.

Does a copywriter have anything to do with copyright?

Just like any other creator, the written materials a copywriter creates will automatically have a copyright attached to them. Here in New Zealand there is no registration system. Copyright applies immediately when you record your work. This is the same in the UK, Australia and the USA, although you do have to register your work in the USA if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Copyright facts


Automatic Copyright

Duration of copyright



Life of creator + 70yrs



Life of creator + 70yrs



Life of creator + 70yrs



Life of creator + 50yrs



Life of creator + 50yrs



Life of creator + 60yrs

Is a copywriter's work protected by copyright?

Here's the deal:

The owner of the copyright is the copywriter. Usually, this is only true for a freelance copywriter. If you have signed an employment contract, you can bet your bottom dollar you have signed away your rights to that copyright.

In reality the copywriter and client assume that the copyright passes to the client after the payment of an invoice but this is not strictly true. You should have a clause that clearly stipulates when the copyright for your work passes from you to your client.

What is copy?

Same word, two different meanings.

In the word ‘copy’ in “copyright” refers to the right to reproduce the work elsewhere. If you own the original work, you have the right to copy it, and reproduce it elsewhere. The word copy is a verb.

The ‘copy’ in ‘copywriter’ has a different meaning. ‘Copy’ is a term from the early days of newspapers – well before TV, radio and the internet. In those days, a journalist or staff writer wrote the articles.

These articles were then sent to the print room where they were copied by a typesetter. He had to turn the written word into metal type that could be printed. The journalist produced ‘copy’ for the typesetter.

At that time there were no ad agencies, the newspapers created ads for clients directly. In the beginning it was the journalists that wrote the ads until a specialised writer took his place – a copywriter.

Hopefully that has cleared any confusion. If it’s copyright, talk to a lawyer, if it’s ads you need talk to a copywriter.