Copyright 101

The topic today is copyright.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “If only she’d write about something more fun.” Well, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.*

Learning about copyright registration is about as exciting as watching the hair on my chin grow. Therefore, I’d like to give you a condensed primer and thus spare you the research pain I endured. Even those of you outside the U.S. may want to pay attention, because copyright protection is available regardless of the author’s nationality provided certain conditions are met (see page 2 of this copyright.gov link). Plus, many countries honor each other’s copyrights.

United States Copyright

Technically, any work created on or after January 1, 1978 is under copyright protection the moment it’s spawned, whether it’s published or not, thereby making copyright registration voluntary. But many authors and publishers choose to complete an official copyright registration. Small publishers like mine often leave it to the author.

But if work is automatically protected, why bother?

First of all, it creates a public record. Second of all, registration is required to sue in court for infringement, and if the litigation is successful, registered works are eligible for “statutory damages and attorney’s fees.”

Registration can be done electronically or by paper. The online option is quick and simple. You merely:

  • Complete an online form.
  • Pay a $35 nonrefundable filing fee.
  • Print out the generated shipping slip for the deposit copies (your book or whatever your product is).
  • Include this slip with two copies of the “best edition” work and mail the items off to the Library of Congress address that’s provided.

“Best edition” works are the editions that the “Library of Congress determines the most suitable for its purposes,” which is the one of highest quality. For books, that means a printed copy over an e-book, a hardcover over a paperback.

I received my certificate of copyright within six weeks of my application. Not bad. Paper applications can take up to six months.

Click for bigger view.

One thing to note—all your submitted information is available to the public on the Internet. Therefore, I acquired a PO Box address and used this. No need to share my home address with every Tom, Dick, and Harry Dick.

As a bonus for copyright registration, your submission is automatically submitted to the Library of Congress. Of course, whether your book stays there or finds a new home somewhere else is a topic for another post…

So there you have it, the candy and nuts. Perhaps we’ll have a merry Christmas after all.

If you’re a writer or artist, have you ever submitted a copyright registration? Would you consider doing so? Do you like candy and nuts?

Images other than my copyright certificate are from Microsoft Clip Art.

*Phrase attributed to Don Meredith (American football player/commentator)

**Update** 12/18/2012, 9:55 am:

Based on some of the comments, I wanted to clarify that you can register both unpublished and published works for copyright. However, if you obtain a copyright registration for an unpublished work, you need to register again once it’s published.

 

152 Responses to “Copyright 101”

  1. G M Barlean

    CARRIE!!! I thought you just took a break over the holidays. I haven’t been getting any of the notices for your blog!!! GASP. I am going to re-follow you. I wonder if it’s because you made a new theme for your page? I just did the same so now I hope I kept my followers. So, that’s why I’ve been absent. Sorry about that. Good thing I just came to check on you.
    Regarding copyrights. Thank you for this awesome information. I’m sold. I haven’t applied yet, but I think I will. Sounds worth it to me!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      No worries, Gina. I had one other person tell me they couldn’t access my site, but other than that things seem to have gone smoothly with the theme change. Of course, it wasn’t until AFTER I paid for this new theme that I discovered the widgets don’t show up on the post pages–only the homepage and static pages. Oh, well, guess it’s a cleaner look. 🙂

      Glad the copyright info was helpful. I think it’s worth doing, at the very least just to learn about the process. Next I need to finish a post about the necessary library numbers one must obtain to get a book inside them. That’s a little more confusing to me, so I must sort it out.

      Like

  2. Carol Wuenschell

    The lawyers say mailing it to yourself proves nothing because you could have mailed the empty envelope and put anything in later. (Requires foresight, of course…)

    What can you get away with sending them for an unpublished work? Do they want the printed manuscript? Or will they take a electronic copy for that?

    Very glad you brought this up, Carrie.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      For an unpublished work, I suppose they’d take whatever you want to give them seeing as how copies for the Library of Congress wouldn’t be needed. But that’s a good question. I guess if I was to just publish an e-book, I’d send them an electronic copy. If I was querying out paper manuscripts, I’d send a hard copy.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  3. Martha Merrill Wills

    Love candy more than nuts. Have not applied to copyright anything, but may in the future. I often write to image makers to ask permission to use their artwork on my posts (since images are so important to blogs). It’s dangerous to post photos and images without consent!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      You are right about that, and yet so many bloggers do. I saw a photo on FB that I really wanted to share–it was so funny–but the poster doesn’t know where it came from (just off the web ‘somewhere’) so I don’t dare share it. I get most of my images from Microsoft Clip Art, which allows their images to be used. Or else I use my own. Occasionally I hunt one down on the Internet, but even though I credit the source, I think twice about using it.

      Like

  4. Jennifer M Eaton

    I knew it was easy to get a copyright, but I didn’t know that your address will become public record. Yikes! I don’t think anyone with children and/or family would want that!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yeah, it’s a little creepy knowing that your address is just ‘out there.’ Then again, as I mentioned to someone else, everyone knows where Stephen King lives in Bangor, Maine (I’ve driven past his house a few times–back when I had family in that town), and it seems to work out for him. 🙂

      Bet you’re exhausted from all your online touring. I suspect a long nap is in order. 🙂

      Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          Hmm, maybe I’m not as Type A as I thought. If I was, I’d open up tomorrow’s post right now, reread it, and make sure it’s up to HF’s standards. But I’m too lazy to do that, so I’ll just have to hope for the best…

          Like

            • Carrie Rubin

              It’s great, because you’re one of the few bloggers I feel I don’t have to stick in smiley faces or winks or other emoticons with my comments. Because you know I’m joking around. Of course, sometimes I still throw them in. Just to be safe. 🙂 😮 😉

              Like

            • harperfaulkner

              I’d use them if I knew how to get to them. I just learned this from my daughter 😉 Apparently, I’m winking at you. She showed me one about sticking out my tongue, but I’ve forgotten that one already. Otherwise, I would have used it. HF

              Like

            • harperfaulkner

              I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that reference. I’m sure it probably refers to something nasty or duty or mean. I am above all of that. I am not a doctor. I am, a writer! HF

              Like

            • harperfaulkner

              That little friendly wave I give when someone lets me merge. Ah, bluebirds of happiness are flying around my head and the world is beautiful once again. Here’s hoping the New Year brings you much fame and many riches and that you share them with the little people like me. HF

              Like

  5. 4amWriter

    So glad to have this info. Better still, to realize it’s not going to be back-breaking work. Love the tidbit about acquiring a PO Box. That’s the kind of detail I would totally overlook. Then I’d be the one with a bunch of Harry Dick’s swarming my house. 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      If I can rid the world of Harry Dick stalkers, than my duty is done!

      And actually, the PO Box has also been nice for when I mail out copies of my book. I can use that as my return address so I’m not giving my home address away to complete strangers. Paranoid much, Carrie? 😉

      Like

  6. Kourtney Heintz

    My dad’s a lawyer so this topic was heavily discussed when I finished my first novel. 😉 I have copyrighted the revised and edited version of each unpublished book before I start submitting. I know I’ll have to update with the final version but I like knowing it’s copyrighted before I send it out. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Although many experts out there say it’s not necessary to copyright the unpublished work, I think in the future if I go through another long query process, I may do the same, at least now that I’ve seen how simple it is to do and really isn’t all that expensive. And if you ever do go the traditional publishing route, at least your dad can help you decipher the contract. 🙂

      Like

  7. Diane Henders

    Canada is similar, but we pay $50 per registration. I’ve registered all my copyrights.

    On a side note, I went to school with a guy named Harry Dick. (I was going to say “I went to school with a Harry Dick”, but I thought that might cause needless misunderstandings…)

    Like

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