Author Talk: US Copyright
At my last public event I was approached by a young author who had been struggling to figure out how to become published. She told me that she had already tried contacting various people like lawyers, writing clubs, and other authors for some guidance. Unfortunately, she never did get much help from any of those sources and that made me sad.
Back in 2004 when I started thinking about publishing my poetry, there was next to no information available. I knew to stay away from “vanity press” places as they had been after me for some time. Yet, was there any other option? It was a good question and one that started my internet search and eventually led me to Lulu Press. From there I also began researching things like Copyright applications and Mandatory Deposits. I spent a lot of time reading their website, calling them, emailing them, and speaking to the Library of Congress. I’ve done so many applications for copyright that it seems second nature to me. So, imagine my surprise at being asked how one goes about copyrighting their work. I guess I just assumed everybody knew where to look. Apparently that is not the case for I heard many attendees asking authors basic questions like this. Some of them were as clueless as I was when I started over 12 years ago.
Flash forward to today, and I am inspired to write a few pieces that may help guide newer authors in the right direction. The first piece is to help people figure out where to go for Copyright information. Simply visit http://www.copyright.gov/. Since I started using their site, it has been totally revamped and is now very user-friendly. But, the best basic information is found in their FAQ. Here are my favorite parts of the FAQ from their website:
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.
I registered my works long ago to secure my ability to bring suit for any infringement. Right now, under the US law, your work is copyrighted the minute it is created. I do, however, recommend sending in an application. I know it can get expensive, but if your works are all unpublished (not for sale yet) then you generally can group them into a large collection and submit them under a group name for one fee. This is what I used to do with my photography because I had so many pictures. Could you imagine having to make 400 applications for copyright on each image!
If you have written a story of any kind or create any kind of 2D art, then I urge you to check out the Copyright Office’s website for some helpful information on how to protect your work. The website can also give you a general idea of what is infringement and what is not. (For more information on that specific topic, you might need to Google “Fair Use”.)
PS-I’m not a lawyer…nor do I work at the Copyright Office…..so none of this can be taken as legal advice or gospel. I’m just trying to help others find the best place to start. I do not like to see people taken advantage of or scoffed at because they truly do not know where to start. Remember everyone was a n00b at one time or another!
Please, for the love of all that is good, don’t pay somebody several hundred dollars to file the copyright for you!!!! There are SCAMS out there trying to take advantage of those that don’t know where to go or what to do. Your first stop should be the official government page.