The Copyright Question
The biggest fear anyone ever has as a creative mind is: What if someone steals my hard work? This shouldn’t be a problem to even begin with, but in this day and age, it, unfortunately, is. Since deciding I would be an indie-author, I have had to consult many of my lawyer friends and do extensive research on the subject. I’ve heard all kinds of myths and lies being told to authors, though not all with bad intentions in mind. Most are just never given the correct information. Whether you plan on going the traditional route or choosing the independent path, this post is meant to help you answer a few questions and keep you and your work safe based on my own research and after talking with a few of my lawyer buddies.
- COPYRIGHT IS INITIATED THE MOMENT IT IS CREATED
The moment you put an idea down on paper, it is yours. You have natural copyright on it, but it’s hard to prove you’re the one to own it without the proper forms. The little copyright symbol in the corner with your name beside it isn’t enough to prove you own anything. You need evidence, and who is better at holding on to and creating evidence than the government and their public record? If the government has it in writing, then you are completely set. You can sue anyone who you think may have stolen your work and you have a much better chance at getting your work back plus any damages where money is concerned. Once again: THE COPYRIGHT SYMBOL MEANS NOTHING UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO BACK IT UP. It may deter a few of the amateur criminals, but those who know the business aren’t afraid of it. It’s best just to go on ahead and put a little power behind that symbol rather than to risk someone “testing” the worth of it.
- WRITER’S SAY IT DOESN’T HAPPEN – THIS IS NOT THE CASE.
When attending any conference, the question usually comes up, whether in personal interaction or as a large Q and A section: Should I copyright my work before sending it to publishers? The writer’s or representatives will always say, “It never happens,” but in reality, it happens all too often. Publishers want to make money, but it’s hard to make money on someone with an unknown name. It isn’t unheard of for a publisher to reject a work on the grounds of the writer being unknown, then giving the same idea to one of their more well-known authors just for the publicity of it. Sure, the writer could sue, but the burden of proof falls into their hands. If you have nothing to show for your hard work other than a copy on your computer, there is no guarantee you will find any form of compensation and all your work could be lost. Save every email, make copies of everything, and do your best to keep records. There’s no guarantee this will work, but it’s best to go ahead and keep everything in case the need arises.
- THE “POOR MAN’S” COPYRIGHT DOES NOT GUARANTEE SAFETY
Not everyone knows it by this title, but it is a well-known and overused process of “self-copyrighting.” Supposedly, if you write up your manuscript, print it off with a mail slip that has the date on it, mail it back to yourself, and put it up somewhere unopened, you have sufficient proof as to your ownership of the idea and story. Though this can help, it does not guarantee a full ownership. The burden of proof is a heavy one, and this form of copyright does not make the burden much lighter – if it does at all. When explaining this process to one of my law friends, he laughed. He literally laughed, and then he proceeded to explain to me the flaw in this process. Sure, the mail slip proves I mailed something on that day to myself, but I could have just mailed an empty envelope and then stuck someone else’s manuscript in there to try and pass it off as my own. If you were suing someone – an average Joe – then you might have a chance, but against a big publisher and a big name in authorship, then this process has little to no chance of working. This is an example of a lie or myth with good intentions. Unless you have sufficient knowledge of law, it would be hard to know whether this actually worked or not. On the outside, it seems legit and makes plenty of sense, but if you look deeper and think like a judge, then this evidence is completely useless.
Now, I did not write this to scare anyone away from traditional publishing or publication in general. I just want everyone to be aware of the possible threats out there. There are bad people who are willing to hurt you to make a quick buck. I want to make sure everyone has the tools necessary to defend themselves before something happens. Better to have prepared for nothing than to have been unprepared for something. Unfortunately, I have no notarized copies of anything my colleagues said, but as I said previously: I did my own research. The most useful page I found is:
He backs up a lot of what my friends have said which I find very reassuring.
But if you don’t feel like going through that page and you trust what I say enough, then here is the link to the copyright form page:
You can either go through the online forms or send in your manuscript through the mail. You may have to do both depending on what is requested of you. There is a fee ranging from $35-$65, but it may be worth the money just to make sure what’s yours stays yours, especially if the work is something very near and dear to your heart. Be sure to check the requirements before you start preparing to send stuff in!
But I would like to address this: not everyone is out to steal your work. There are bad people, but there are good people too. Do your research. There are authors who go their whole lives without a single issue regarding copyright, but make sure you know who you’re giving your work to.
I myself took a pitfall when looking for an editor. A freelance editor, who had plenty of reviews stating his great service, I sent my work to after getting a sample edit took my work and never gave it back. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay until after the work was done, but now when I look back I should’ve have taken that as a red flag. My book eventually ended up being published in KDP under the editor’s name. With the help of my lawyer friends, I was able to persuade him to take it down. He has since removed his page, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he just changed his name and moved on to a different website. If he had known better, he could have left it up and there would be no way to defend myself because I did not have copyright. Just do your research. Search an editor’s name with the word “scam” to see if you have a reason to worry. Just be careful and keep writing!
Regardless, I hope you enjoyed this article and feel more secure about the process. Have any worries? Drop me a comment! I’m sure I can ask any of my buddies for help. Be sure to check out my links. Both have a decent amount of FAQs on there, so you may find what you need just by heading to those pages.
Happy writing, and thanks for reading!
I’ve always thought the whole mailing idea was flawed, but it seems like an email to yourself (or your editor) would be much more valid as proof it was yours. And email stays around forever. In fact I believe Google is doing away with deleting emails and moving towards everyone just archiving them now.
I’m no lawyer, but I do know that email (as well as Facebook and other social media) are used frequently in law cases. I’d love if a lawyer gave some perspective on this idea.
I’ll ask and see. Great idea. Maybe something to add to the post. Thank you for the comment!