QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Seven Questions Authors Need to Ask About Copyright

Writers beginning their journey to publication will eventually have to think about the issue of copyright protection.

When my first novel came out, the small press who published it took care of copyright registration. There wasn’t a heck of a lot for me to do. I saw the little copyright symbol in the front of my book and thought, Well, that’s one less thing for me to worry about.

However, when I self-produced my novel THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, I was on my own—so I needed to know what the details were.

New writers should be aware what copyright is and what it does so that they can make informed decisions regarding their work. Much of the information presented in this article comes from the Wikipedia page (noted as [1]) as well as Copyright.gov (noted as [2]).

Which leads me to the big looming disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I don’t pretend to be a lawyer. This is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult a professional. This article is for informational purposes only. Visit copyright.gov for the laws and regulations and processes regarding this topic.

Ok, let's get to the important stuff. Here are the questions you should be asking (as well as some answers. I have nothing against cheat sheets.)

1) What is copyright?

“Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution.” [1] It protects both published and unpublished works. [2]

Basically, it states that, if you create it, you should have the rights to it. For authors, this means that your book is your book and you control the rights to it. It also means that if you plagiarize another person’s work or distribute it without their permission, you are in violation of their copyright. You cannot copyright material that belongs to someone else.

However, there are shades and degrees all sorts of nuances. For instance, through coincidence, two people may hold copyright on substantially similar ideas and still not be in violation of copyright as long as it can be determined that one did not copy from the other.

2) What does copyright protect?

“Copyright is a form of intellectual property, applicable to certain forms of creative work. Under US copyright law, legal protection attaches only to fixed representations in a tangible medium.” [1]

Creative work includes far more than literary creations but, for us authors, we are most concerned with works such as novels, stories, poems, plays, and articles. (For an in-depth answer to this question, look at this document.)

3) What does copyright NOT protect?

The Wikipedia page lists several exceptions to what copyright will protect. Copyright will not protect:
• Names of products
• Names of businesses, organizations, or groups
• Pseudonyms of individuals
• Titles of works
• Catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans, or short advertising expressions
• Listings of ingredients in recipes, labels, and formulas (although the directions may be protected by copyright)

It also doesn’t protect facts or ideas. [2]

Copyright is not the same thing as a patent or a trademark. Those distinctions are described here

4) How is copyright enforced?

Copyright exists the moment an author puts work in a tangible form. In other words, he prints it out. You write a book, print it out, boom. You got copyright!

Enforcing it, on the other hand, is where all the work comes in. An author must register the work with the copyright office. Doing this is easy enough: go to http://copyright.gov and fill out an application.

You send in the form either by mail or electronically (faster) and follow up with snail-mailing a print copy of your book. They mail you a certificate once the work is registered. If you then find that someone has violated your copyright, you can take legal action.

5) What does it cost?

Registering a work with the copyright office isn’t very expensive. For a single author/single work, it costs under 50$. The fee list is here.  (The costs associated with taking legal action will vary.)

6) What is a poor man’s copyright?

It is thought that if one were to print out their manuscript, seal it in an envelope, and mail it to themselves, it would protect their work in the matter of what some call “a poor man’s copyright". If left unopened, the date on the postmark should be enough proof that the work was put into tangible form by that date. Right?

Wrong. This process won’t protect the work in the event of a copyright lawsuit. All this process does is make a nice souvenir. But you already knew that copyright exists the moment you print your work out. (If not, go back and read #4.)

7) Do you need to register your copyright?

And that’s the million dollar question. The answer is: only if you want copyright laws to back up your claim should you head to court.

Will you actually need to go to court? I hope not.

It’s kind of like auto insurance. Are you definitely going to get into an accident? I hope not. But that’s why we carry insurance. It’s protection in case an if becomes a when. What stops a person from driving a car without insurance? Nothing, really, except the threat of legal ramifications since it’s the law to maintain car insurance. But no law says you need insurance to publish a book.

So…maybe it’s not like auto insurance. Maybe it’s even more confusing.

Think about you, your book, your goals as a writer…then do your own research. You already own the right to your work. Do you want the laws to protect it for you? I guess that’s the question you need to ask.

And if you want to see copyright in action, here are some articles about important copyright infringement discussions:

J.K. Rowling wins copyright infringement case

When Does a Movie Infringe a Novel's Copyright?

The Shadowhunters vs. the Dark-Hunters

Authors published by traditional or small presses most likely will have their registration handled for them, as mine had been with my first novel. Indie authors who are self-producing their work will have to register their work with the copyright office on their own.

I chose to register THE HEARTBEAT THIEF because I wanted to ensure I crossed every t and dotted every i (something that, ironically, I often fail to do when handwriting. What a weird cliché for me to use.) It was only 35$. I figured it was worth the cost of insurance. Once I had the print book formatted, I printed a proof copy and mailed it in (so, another 10$ or so).

For me, it wasn’t difficult or and it wasn’t expensive...and it’s one less thing I need to worry about.

Good thing. I don’t need to spend my time worrying about things like that. I’d rather spend my time writing my next book.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.

1 comment:

Stacy McKitrick said...

You don't even need to have a print copy of your book anymore to file for copyright. They'll accept PDFs if you only have electronic copies.