Intellectual Property and the Freelance Writer
Who Owns What You Create?

When you think about the terms “intellectual property” and “freelance writer,” the two don’t seem to go together—or do they? Would you believe me if I told you that they absolutely do? And here’s why!

Freelance writers are a unique group of writers in the Digital Age, the time period beginning in the mid-20th century until today. For the purposes of this article, these are the freelancers I’m addressing.

A freelance writer is a creator, a designer of content, a sculptor of an amalgamation of words into a wondrous creation. A freelance writer’s words are extremely valuable and useful to many businesses, especially in today’s massively growing gig economy. When considering economic and legal factors that impact freelance writers, their intellectual property—their rights, protections, and ownership of their work—becomes a significant issue.

As a freelance writer, it is important to know the following information concerning intellectual property laws, rights, and protections:

·         What is intellectual property?

·         What is intellectual property law?

·         What are the most important factors concerning intellectual property rights and protections

 brown wooden hand tool on white printer paper

What Is Intellectual Property?

By definition, the term intellectual property is “any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.”

Seems pretty cut and dry, right?

What Is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law is the protection of the rights of a person (or business) who creates a work of art.

A work of art includes, but is not limited to, literature, words, phrases, or symbols; music, song, or spoken dialogue; inventions, designs, or processes; and more. The purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage the growth and development of emerging technologies, artistic expression, and innovation.

What are the important factors concerning intellectual property rights and protections? 

Here’s where things get interesting. 

When we consider intellectual property rights, we are referring to the right or ability to have protection for your intellectual property. Laws created to protect the rights of the creator of intellectual property provide this service.

For example, Vee has created a manuscript based on the life and times of Bessie Coleman. Therefore, Vee has complete ownership of the manuscript. The manuscript itself is the “property” of her “intellectual” creation. United States laws protect the creator of this type of property, should there be a question of its validity, source, or infringement from a third party. When there is a legal challenge presented, it will be necessary for the creator to enlist the help of a trained intellectual property lawyer.

As a freelance writer, you may be wondering, “Okay! So, what does all this have to do with ME?”

Well, a lot!

As freelance writers, some of us may not be as savvy when it comes to matters of the law. That may not be an arena we typically work in or have a specialty. Most freelance writers whom I know are creators who like to craft stories about people and places, instead of being worried about legal protections.

However, it is especially important that freelancers pay close attention to the contracts and agreements that they sign with their potential clients. The size of the client’s company does not matter! The client can be a large conglomerate corporation or a small mom-and-pop business; they will be unique to work with. The contracts and agreements they construct will reflect their nature as a company, their morals, and the ethics of how they do business.

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A Matter of Intellectual Property Law

There are several main areas of intellectual property law that freelance writers should be familiar with for their business:

·         Copyright

·         Patent

·         Trademark

·         Trade Secrets


Copyright is a group of rights that protect a creator’s original work. In this article, we are referencing the freelance writer. An original work is an artistic work that the freelance writer has exclusively created. When a freelance writer creates any type or form of written work, e.g., an article, a manuscript, a spoken-word poem, brand marketing phrases, lyrics to a song, a celebrity news article for a social media news outlet, etc., it is considered original work.

The laws surrounding copyright usage and coverage are simple yet complex. Copyrights simply protect how original work is expressed.

The great thing about all of this copyright talk is that as soon as you pen your work, the copyright is immediately enforced on your created work. Unless otherwise stated in your contract with your client, your work is all YOURS. No one else can claim it! Additionally, a copyright covers how the work can be reproduced, displayed, or distributed, and it covers any modifications or deviations of the original work.


A patent will protect the freelance writer’s work from being made, sold, or reproduced without the authorization of the writer, within a certain period of time. A patent allows the writer (“inventor”) to sell their product or make money from it. The inventor can sell or transfer the rights of the product to a person or a business entity. There are various types of patents that exist. The length of time that a patent is in effect may differ depending on the patent type. Patents are definitely topics that you should seek counsel on from an intellectual property lawyer that specializes in patent law.


A trademark is any label, word, symbol, or design that can be used to distinguish one manufacturer or seller from another. Trademarks are usually associated with a product. The requirements for a trademark are 1.) It must be useful in commerce, and 2.) It must be distinguishable.

For example, the Apple symbol, which is used for commerce and is distinguishable, is the designated trademark symbol for Apple corporations. Everybody knows who they are! Also, another area of special interest for an intellectual property lawyer.


Trade Secrets

A trade secret is a company’s confidential information that is unknown to a competitor of that company. For example, the trade secret to Chick-fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich recipe is certainly something that their closest competitor wants to know. If there is reason to be concerned about infringement of a trade secret, definitely contact an intellectual property lawyer for further counsel.

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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

I recommend learning the contract complexities that may occur when collaborating with client companies involved in marketing, news, and social media. They may be more concerned about the ability to use your work over an extended length of time than you actually realize. If your contract is not written correctly, the time-of-use factor may be in the client’s favor. The time span in which the client may be authorized to use your work can range from a few days to a few months, a few years, or for perpetuity. Yeah!... That’s right!

Here’s what you can do to alleviate potential issues with copyrights: 

  • Never do work for free! Make sure you have a contract!

A quick and easy way to get a sample contract that can be easily editable is to search for various freelance job websites. There may be reference materials and other valuable resources chock-full of great information that you can use.

  • Limit your exposure. Get incorporated!

Enough with this procrastination! For your safety and your family’s security, incorporate your freelance business. You get paid to be a creative force for your client, right? So that means you are a business. Incorporating your business is so easy to do. Just do a search for your state business incorporations division. Check out their website or give them a call! You know how the state is; they are going to be more than happy to take your money—I mean help you! 

  • Have insurance, just in case!

Life is full of unexpected occurrences. Trust me, I know! To have a sense of security should something happen, consider having the following types of insurance products for your freelance writer business: Liability, property and/or renter’s, health, and disability.

                *   Liability insurance protects you against legal actions related to your work product.

                *   Property and/or renter’s insurance protects theft or damage to your business assets.

                *   Health insurance covers you in case you get sick. However, disability insurance will cover you when you cannot work, usually due to a medical situation.

To sum this all up:

  • Learn and understand intellectual property and how it will affect you, your family, and your business.

  • Incorporate—NOW!

  • Get Insurance! It will protect you and everything that is important to you, in the event that something happens.

  • Develop a contract to use with your potential clients that will protect your intellectual property. There are a ton of sample contracts online. Find an attorney to review your contract. Then you are good to go!

  • Seek out an impressive client who really wants your creative energy to help them be even greater! (Like DCP Global)

 Written By Dee Hardy


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