Definition of Copyright and Copywriting

You can apply for a copyright or you can apply for some copywriting, but they’re totally different things. In the first case, you’re asking for a document that gives you the right to publish something. In the second, you’re asking for a writing job. Writers often get them confused.


A copyright is a legal document issued by the Copyright section of the United States Patent Office. It states that the person named on the document as the author owns the right to publish the written material designated in the document. That doesn’t mean that the person named actually wrote the copy, only that he or she has the legal right to publish it.

It’s not necessary to copyright anything. Legally, as soon as a person commits words to paper, they’re protected by a copyright whether a government document has been acquired or not. Practically, if you write something, and I apply for and get a copyright on it, it’s going to be tough for you to prove that you wrote it.

From the tech writer’s POV, it’s a little different. The law says that work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or a work specially ordered or commissioned is a “work made for hire” and the employer is considered to be the author. If you get paid to write something for someone else, you don’t have a right to it.

In its correct forms, the word is:

– copyright: the right to publish

“She owns the copyright to that book.”

– copyrighted: the condition of being covered by a copyright

“You can’t publish that because it’s copyrighted material.”

– copyrighting: the act of obtaining a copyright

“I’m copyrighting this even as I write it.”

There is no such form as copyright or copywritten correctly associated with this definition even though the Microsoft Word Spell Check accepts copywritten as a correct spelling (but doesn’t say for what), and copywritten shows up all over the Web in place of copyrighted.


Copywriting is the act of creating copy or content. Generally, the term refers to writing in the sense of creating non-technical material. It’s different from the kind of writing tech writers do. Some jobs that call for copywriting are marketing brochures, magazines, newspapers, and consumer-directed communications. If you’re a writer, you might be a copywriter.


Here’s another comparison to be careful of. If you want to write plays, you want to be a playwright. Yes, that’s right. You have to write wright when you’re writing about writing plays. We almost never use wright by itself. It’s used mostly in compound words such as wheelwright, millwright, or wainwright. We do see it a lot as a name; Frank Lloyd Wright or Wright/Patterson Airbase.

Wright has the same history as Smith. A smith was anyone who worked some kind of metal with a hammer; blacksmith, tinsmith, silversmith. A wright was a craftsman who made something. The name of the occupation became the name of an individual.

A person who makes plays is a playwright. True, he may write them, but he’s not a playwright. I guess you could argue that a person who writes copy is a copywright, but it’s not used that way.

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