Copyright - copywrite

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These two homophones have been confused by some writers. Don't be among them! The confusion comes because of the homophones right and write.

  • Copyright is a legal concept. It is a particular kind of Intellectual Property - etymologically and literally the right to make copies of something. The originator of a work has such an exclusive right granted by law (which varies internationally), and can grant it or sell it to others, such as a publisher. The basic word copyright is a noun, which can be used epithetically (as an adjective). There is also a verb, meaning "To secure copyright for; to protect by copyright" (OED). OED also has copyrighter, a person who secures copyright.
  • Copywrite derives from 'to write', rather than 'right'. In this case, copy is a non-count noun. Confusingly, this means 'the original'. It is a term developed by printers to mean the text that they were setting up in print. From them, journalists learned to use it as a slang term to mean "That which lends itself to interesting narration in a book, newspaper, etc.; material for a story" (OED). An editor might say "Write me 200 words of copy on the cat stuck up the tree", and the journalist would hand the printer 2oo words to be copied into hard type. Advertisers extended this sense of copy to mean the text (words) used in an advertisement. Copywriting is now the recognised term for the job of writing text for advertisements, and a copywriter is a person appointed to such a job.