Some friends and I have been discussing copyright laws. Many authors feel the need for extra protection while others argue you don’t need it.
The simple truth is that as soon as you create something and put it in physical form (write it on paper, post it to the internet, take the picture, put brush to canvas etc.) your work is automatically protected by copyright. In other words, this post became copyrighted as soon as I saved it. However, what legal recourse do I actually have should you decide to steal my post?
You can copyright your work through the US Copyright Service. Most publishers would never steal your work, either due to ethical beliefs or from fear of a lawsuit. However, why take the chance when you can pay such a small fee (about $30 - $45) for the extra protection? By obtaining this copyright license, what you write today will be protected for the length of your life, plus at least 50 years. You also become entitled to legal fees in the event of a lawsuit.
Some editors and agents will even insist that your ownership is established before they will sign a contract with you. (I’ll talk about signing away rights in a later post.)
It may take several weeks or months before you receive confirmation of your registration from the Copyright Office. You don't need to wait for that confirmation before distributing your book to publishers. The copyright registration date will be retroactive to the date the Copyright Office receives your registration packet. For the most current fee schedule and other how-to guidelines go to www.copyright.gov.
So what do you do if you suspect or have proof of plagiarism? Most of us are not rich. We can’t afford massive retainer and following legal fees even if we know we can win and will be reimbursed. Some lawyers have experience dealing with the arts, copyright laws and offer pro bono services. You can find states’ volunteer legal services at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Their resource page offers information about copyright, trademarks and contracts.
Most of the information in this post is based on personal research or tips shared by colleagues and friends. Please share any personal experiences or tips with those of us still learning. Happy writing!