Copyright laws go hand in hand with the concept of plagiarism. After work is finished, it is considered copyrighted, unless the author signs it over for use by someone else. You do not need to add the copyright symbol “©” for your work to be protected. A copyright covers all works, published and unpublished. It lasts for 70 years after the original author’s death.

Writing an original work may seem intimidating. With so many word combinations being thrown out into cyberspace and onto paper every day, you may feel that nothing is truly original. In a sense that is true, but structuring your work to avoid copyright infringement is relatively easy. Here are six tips to keep in mind to make sure you aren’t breaking copyright laws when you author a written work.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Including a cliché used by hundreds of people every day is not considered a copyright infringement. Additionally, you will not violate copyright laws for using the same headline as another person. These similarities are considered insubstantial.
  1. Rewrite everything except for direct quotes. Maintain originality by writing content in a fresh way. If you use a direct quote, use quotation marks and the appropriate citation method for your forum. In blogs, you can link to the original source. In other written formats, you may need to use the citation tool in Word to ensure you’re including the relevant source information.
  1. Feel free to take from the public domain. There are several ways to check whether information is in the public domain. Generally, anything published by the federal government, facts, and other generic information is considered public. Be wary of using public domain content too freely, however. The work may be protected by some other legal sanction, such as a trademark.
  1. There is no such thing as international copyright. If you pursue formal registration, chances are your copyright will stand in other countries, but it is not guaranteed.
  1. Changing names and situations is not enough to avoid copyright infringement. While rewording can save you from copyright infringement for general ideas, you cannot use another person’s plot or identifying features. While it’s okay to base content on another story, make sure your work is wholly original unless you have the permission of the author or artist.
  1. Artwork and choreography are also copyrighted. Musical compositions, original choreography, and artwork from paintings to sculptures and photography are also protected under copyright laws.

The penalty for copyright infringement can lead to heavy fines and damages. In some cases, it can lead to a criminal and civil suit. If you have questions regarding copyrighted material, always consult an attorney before selling or distributing.