I see many writers worried about protecting their work via copyright. It’s understandable. You send your book to a beta reader or editor or friend to read and obtain opinions and you want a guarantee that none of those people will pass of your work as theirs.
I get it.
Luckily, the basic rules of copyright are easy to understand. All works created after 1977 are protected for the length of the author’s life and another fifty years thereafter. After that the work falls into the public domain and anyone can use it without permission. (Any work created in 1977 or earlier can be copyrighted for up to seventy-five years from the time of its first publication or its registration with the copyright office.)
Obtaining a copyright for your work is truly effortless. The way the law is structured today, copyright is assumed the moment your words hit the paper or the computer screen. Technically, you need not even place a copyright notice on your work.
There are, however, additional benefits to registering your work with the copyright office:
- Adding a copyright notice allows you to defeat claims of “innocent infringement.”
- You must register your work with the copyright office before you can file suit against someone who steals your work. If you wait to register your work until after the theft takes place, you may not recover attorney fees or some damages from the defendant.
To register a copyright, request the proper form from the Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress, then Follow these steps:
Step 1: Request and complete the proper form, either Form TX for books, manuscripts, online work, and poetry, or Form PA for scripts and dramatic works.
Step 2: Into an envelope, put your:
- Completed application form
- $30 payment (current rate) to “Register of Copyrights”
- Nonreturnable copy or copies of the material to be registered
Step 3: Send the package to the Library of Congress Copyright Office at the address below.
For more information about copyrights, contact the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington,
D.C. 20559-6000. Tel: (202) 707-3000. Web site: www.copyright.gov.
The Copyright Office Web site makes available all copyright registration forms and informational circulars, plus other announcements and general copyright information. The Web site also provides a means of searching copyright registrations and recorded documents from 1978 forward.
You can also use the Forms and Publications Hotline [(202) 707- 9100)] to request application forms or informational circulars. The Fax-on-Demand service [(202) 707-2600] allows you to use any Touch-Tone phone to order up to three circulars and/or announcements via fax. (Application forms are not available via fax.)
Of course, not even a registered copyright can protect your most valued assets—your ideas.
In reality, most articles are written on the basis of an idea proposal, a query, which protects you from starting a piece without being paid. But since you can’t copyright an idea, you must trust the editors who read your queries. Fortunately, the vast majority of editors are trustworthy. They have to be. An editor with a reputation for stealing other people’s ideas won’t last long in the business. (Sometimes what appears to be piracy is simply the result of a project being already in the works when your query arrives. An editor, however, should inform you of this when rejecting your query.)
The American Society of Journalists and Authors defines a story idea as a “subject combined with an approach.” It says a writer shall have a proprietary right to an idea suggested to an editor and have first shot at developing it. Any editor with integrity will respect this ethical standard.
I hope this information helps you and makes you feel better about obtaining help on your way to becoming a published author.
As you know, I offer beta reading so I’m happy to help you craft your novel into something wonderful! So, once you make the decision to have your manuscript beta read (hopefully by me), contact me as soon as possible so I can put you on my calendar. As you can imagine, reading entire books for clients takes time, and I calendar beta reads out to give each story a complete and proper review.