Last week I talked about inside information that I guess defines a profession. This information is not generally known by outsiders, not because it’s secret, but more because it’s not part of the general public’s interface with that profession. This week I’m going to tell you about crossword copyright, at least, what I know about it, as I’m not a legal eagle by any means.
When you look at a page of puzzles on a newspaper’s features pages, you might see up to 10 separate puzzles, quizzes and comic strips etc. Inherently, any piece of created work is owned by its creator and therefore automatically protected by copyright. There’s no need for the copyright symbol to be displayed, or even a name or date, but it is prudent that these identifiers be included to emphasise ownership. You might notice, however, that some items don’t carry any ownership tags, and that’s because, by default, the publisher has ownership. So how it is possible that the creator of the crossword doesn’t get credit for the work in the newspaper?
When I first signed up to write The Stickler, dealing directly with The Daily Telegraph, I was told exactly what my rights were and what exactly The Daily Telegraph considered they were buying from me. I retained copyright, but The Daily Telegraph bought a one-time publishing right that later extended beyond the newspaper to digital platforms. That meant they couldn’t publish across the entire newspaper group or sell The Stickler overseas or put 100 of them in a book to sell without my permission. Such things may have been possible, but only after negotiation. The price they paid me was strictly a one-time publishing right, which also precluded me from selling the crossword to other publishers for a period of 5 years.
Dealing directly allowed me to retain ownership and control, but for many crossword setters who operate through agencies, they are asked to give up their ownership as part of their agreement. That is, they are paid a slightly higher fee per crossword, but then it’s out of their control and they can’t resell it at any time in the future. The agency can sell it multiple times in different markets as they now own it. I believe this is a condition of being a Times setter, so the Times do very well out of syndicating their setters’ work around the world, and the original setter has no choice but to agree to this arrangement if they want to be part of the exclusive Times cryptic crossword set-up. At least by operating directly in this case, they avoid paying an agency fee which is roughly 33%. So those “no name” puzzles that you see in newspapers are owned by the agency that supplied the puzzle page who have a relatively long-term agreement with the newspaper.
In Australia, the government has set up a fund administered by Copyright Agency (CA), to compensate creators for (mass) reproduction of their works in various known environments. These include government agencies, schools, universities, libraries and even community colleges – anywhere where reproduction (photocopying mainly) of creators’ work in part or full is considered part of everyday activity. Organisations can apply for a licence from CA (for which they pay a fee), and this entitles them to legally make limited copies. On the other side of the equation, creators (like me), have to register with CA and tell them where our work is published and how it is identified. CA then do surveys across the membership looking for matches with their registered creators, who receive payments from the fund as compensation. I don’t know exactly how the surveying is done, but a Stickler Weekly fan told me an organisation he’s been involved with has had a CA licence for 14 years and they have never done a survey. In these modern times I think it would be very hard to get a true picture of how much reproduction goes on if you focus on photocopying alone. I’ve been a registered member for over 15 years and have received two small payments in that time – details of the where and the circumstances involved aren’t disclosed – I just know that they were in the schools environment.
There’s more to copyright of crosswords that I won’t cover here. Are grids copyrighted, what about individual clues? Could I change someone else’s crossword just a little bit and claim it as my own? Even if it seems copyright has been infringed, is there an easy way for a creator to do something about it? All good questions for another time.