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Grammar 101: Copyright and Copywrite

April 18th, 2013 by

Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

When two words sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, it can be easy to confuse the two. This is further exacerbated when the two words are seemingly related in some way. That is exactly the case with copyright and copywrite, a couple of terms that are particularly relevant to my career as a professional freelance writer.

So, what’s the difference?

Copyright refers to the legal concept of having the exclusive legal right to a particular piece of work. This includes the right to publish, print or otherwise use the work in some fashion and copyright is usually restricted to a specific time period.

For example, I hold the copyright to all the blog posts posted here on Beyond the Rhetoric. It is illegal for someone else to republish this work anywhere else without my permission. If I find one of my blog posts published on another site, I can issue a DMCA takedown notice to the hosting provider to remove that post from their servers. Similarly, you might remember when John Chow and I published a book in 2010. That book is also protected by copyright.

The concept of copyright is somewhat related to trademarks and patents, but these are all entirely different legal concepts that cannot be used interchangeably. This is fodder for another post at another time.

Copywrite, on the other hand, is a verb referring to the act of writing copy. It is more common to see the word “copywriting” than “copywrite,” but they have the same root. “Copy,” in this case, typically refers to the text that is written for the purposes of advertising, marketing or promotion. One of the freelance writing services I offer is writing web copy, for instance, which would be the text that you would see on a company website. This can include the text on the homepage, in the product catalog or in advertisements, among several other possibilities.

This is a key distinction. Whereas copywriting services would entail the writing of words, copyright services would be utilized in a legal context to protect the rights that an individual or company has for a particular piece of work. You want a writer for copywriting, but a lawyer for copyright issues. In my case, if I do some copywriting for a client, he or she can then own the copyright to the resulting written work.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 post? Let me know through the comment form below.

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One Response to “Grammar 101: Copyright and Copywrite”

  1. Jim says:

    My experience has been that most people know it’s copyright, but when it comes to the past tense of the verb, many people will resort to “copywrote”, because copyrighted can sound rather awkward (despite being correct).

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