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  • Writer's pictureWendy Stuart

"Is It True My Editor Has a Copyright Interest In My Book? EEEK!"

Updated: Jan 23, 2019



A client / author called me at Wendy & Words recently and, in quite a concerned voice, asked me if I hold copyright regarding her published book that I edited for her. She had been informed by someone in the industry that I would. I was shocked. For me, the answer was a resounding "NO"; however, I decided to do a little research to put my mind at ease and to inform future clients if the matter arises. Here’s what I found:

The first source of my information here is The Australian Copyright Council. On their website they say this:

"Whether an editor will own copyright in an edited text will depend upon the particular situation. It is unlikely that an editor would own copyright where the edits relate to matters such as spelling, grammar, style and punctuation, or where the editor makes suggestions about the text which the writer later implements

On the other hand, where the editor makes significant changes to structure or wording, the editor (or editor’s employer) may own part of the copyright in the new work created. However, this part ownership would be subject to the underlying copyright in the original material (in other words, you could not independently publish the edited work without permission). Further, the owner of copyright in the original material and the person or organisation you are working with would generally have a very wide-ranging licence to use the edited material without specific permission from you."

So, in my role as a copyeditor if I was dealing primarily with punctuation,grammar and spelling and merely giving advice for the author to follow in re-writes, it is a resounding NO. If, however, as an editor I am restructuring text and basically ghostwriting within the work (which is often the case with my style of creative editing), I may, in theory, claim partownership. (As if I would!) Still, I couldn't publish the work myself without permission because the majority of it is written and also 'owned' by the author. So when would an editor claim her share of copyright?In one case only–and I doubt it would ever happen with the type of conscientous authors and business owners who use my services – and that is if the final account is not paid in full.

Now, I found some more information on a blog site of an editor based in the U.S. regarding this ( I don't know if the rules there are different to those in Australia, but he implies that the only case in which an editor could claim copyright is in regards to the edited version of the document, not the final copy, and this right is relinquished upon payment of final invoice. I figure no editor would claim that except in the case of an unpaid bill.

So, if an editor finds a client is not paying his bill, the editor could claim her copyright on the document and insist on no publication until payment is made. It seems though that, according to 'An American Editor’, the editorial copyright of the editor needs to be stipulated in the contract.

So there is a conflict in the information I found as to whether an editor could claim copyright on the finished product or just the edited version. More research is required. All rather confusing, isn't it?

What About a Ghostwriter?

According to, if thework is not intended to be owned (and controlled) jointly by the subject of the autobiography and the ghost-writer, this must be stated in writing in the collaboration agreement. Otherwise, a ghost-writer can claim copyright on thework. Therefore, (think about this) if the 'author' (subject of the autobiography) dies, royalties of future sales of the book may not be passed onto the author's children but go to the ghost-writer. (Hmmm the ghost of the author may come to haunt the ghost-writer!). Now this is in contrast to 'American Editor' who seems to say that the ghost-writer’s rights only apply to the edited version and once payment has been paid, those rights disappear -'poof'!

I noted on the draft of a ghost written manuscript a while ago that the ghost-writer had his name at the bottom with the copyright symbol. I realise now how he probably had the right to do that. Though 'American Editor' would argue that if he has been paid, it's probably safe to say that right has been relinquished.

Again, folks, contracts solve all these questions. We would like to believe that all possibilities of conflict could be avoided with 'being in the right heart space and having good intentions and shaking hands', but nah! Get real too. Contracts, contracts, contracts. It sets boundaries and expectations and avoids possible future conflict and disappointment.

"What Copyright Can The Designers Of Book Covers And BookIllustrations Claim?"

As I communicated further with other colleagues in the publishing industry closer to home, namely Anthony Puttee of The Book Cover Cafe ( and Kylee Legge of The Publishing Queen( on this topic, they offered information regarding what copyright the designers of book covers and book illustrattions could claim.

Anthony is at present preparing the book cover and website for some of Wendy & Words' authors of illustrated children's books and Kylee has assisted some clients throughout their whole publishing process (bar editing, which was performed by moi!) and she now provides education packages for authors, particularly in the area of Cash Flow Positive Publishing.

This is what I asked them...

Does the illustrator hold copyright on the illustrations she created for my book? And what about the book designer?

Kylee (Publishing Queen):  "Regarding illustrators, copyright issues can arise as by law any original artwork created is always 100% owned by the person who created it.Yet, as the book is original content, it is also 100% owned by the author. [So there could arise a joint 100% copyright ownership]  The Publishing Queen circumnavigates this by asking any illustrator to put in writing that they are happy for their illustrations to be used in the book or any associated marketing material and that they acknowledge they have been paid for this." [So get it in writing, folks, and make sure the illustrator is paid prior to publishing.]

In the case of a book cover, if there is no original artwork created by the designer (i.e. they were provided with the text and stock images), the designer cannot claim any copyright. If, however, original artwork was created, the designer could claim copyright if there is nothing in writing to the contrary. 

Kylee stipulated though that "at the end of the day, whoever holds the copyright is irrelevant if they have already released the book files to their customer."

So if the account has been paid and the files released, the copyright of the designer has gone, according to Kylee. Now, I know some designers might dispute this and would say that without it in writing they still retain their copyright over images they have created,  even after publishing. For me this is the grey area that others may shed light on.

Most designers, particularly those designing covers for authors’ books – which often form the core of their branding – release the rights to logos and designs they have created for the author clients. According to Anthony Puttee of BookCoverCafe, this needs to be put into writing and payment of a 'release rights fee' paid and recorded as such. In most cases, this fee is minimal, even only $1 as a symbolic gesture.This retains good will between the client and designer so that future collaboration is possible.

To retain goodwill between himself and his clients, BookCoverCafe does NOT hold the rights to clients' and authors' visual material once they've made final payment. According to Anthony "It's theirs to do as they wish. This is an important distinction for me and ... it's stated in my project form guidelines I have for every project."

Don't Sign Your Copyright Over To Your Publisher!

I sighted a client's contract from a publisher and right there the publisher was asking him to sign over his copyright to his book and that the rights would go to the publisher's children on the publisher's death! What the @#&%... (edited out). Don't do that. Oh, from memory, he was supposed to sign over rights to any future movie deals based on the book, or a part thereof. Now, I don't know if that part is usual, but please, get legal advice before signing any contracts. Think about your own children.

Editing is a Privilege

As is always the case with matters of law, things do change and evolve, and matters of law are never simple. Laws are there to set boundaries and protect rights. Intellectual Property is very real. As a copyeditor I respect the intellectual property of my clients and view my editing work for them as a privilege. I admire the creative process, particularly with conscious and creative writers, where they have formed an idea, an inspiration, that bubbled forth in their mind (perhaps sourced from above or from their experience of life) and they have brought those ideas to life through words. My joy is supporting them to express the words in the clearest way possible so their voice – and 'energy' – is 'heard' – and felt.

I do often offer ideas for new phrases, sentences or even paragraphs to clients where the relationship is solid and I feel it will add to the work, and, of course, where the author has indicated in our briefing that he/she would appreciate that support. But to me, in the words of the old church I used to go to years ago, any words I provide are an "unconditional offering of the heart". Now professionally, that doesn't mean I won't charge for what I've written or edited or proofread. I value myself too much, but that is all I require: Payment and thanks! With me, you can retain your copyright. I'd rather one day write my own whole book! (Watch this space!)

Now, a disclaimer here: I have only conducted minimal research on this topic. If I learn anything new about this area of copyright, I will let you know. And do let me know if you know something more or different to what is shared here. Meanwhile, it's all food for thought – but necessary to consider in the area of writing and publishing collaboration.

To your writing ventures

Wendy Millgate

Wendy & Words

This article is written for study purposes only and is not to be taken as advice. Wendy & Words holds no responsibility for any actions or decisions made based on this article. 


Anthony Puttee []

Kylee Legge []

Australian Copyright Council [] _articles/collab.html


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