Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Copyright Law: 5 Things That Every Author Should Know

*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am not a law student. And, frankly, I could totally be wrong. In truth, that happens a lot. I am a flawed, flawed individual.

Ok, so now that I've warned you about my fallability. And, hopefully, you've accepted this documented truth. Time to delve into the myths and truths about obtaining copyright of your ideas and stories as interpreted by ME, Jessica Stanford, self proclaimed Copyright Expert. NOT!

1. The moment that you write your mansucript, it is protected against plagiarism or reproduction without your consent. TRUTH! In fact, you never even have to contact the US Copyright Office if you don't want to. Or, you could purchase a legal copyright for every single thing you pen. It's totally up to you! It just depends on how you feel about plagiarism.

Personally, I'm a glass half-full kinda' gal, but some of you may be conspiracy theorists. So if you honestly think that you've written the next 'Twilight' and worry that someone might steal your big story, then maybe you should copyright your work legally. Here is the link to do it electronically
(Or, is it secretly my personal email disguised as the US electronic copyright site? Muhahaha! You'll never know!)

If you're like me and write stories on a semi-daily basis, you may want to try the poor man's approach instead. I email my stories to my critique buddies and ONLY post stories on password protected sites. That way, I have a time and date stamp to verify my claims. And, then, I only have to worry about a dozen or so people stealing my stories. And, honestly, they all seem great. I'm not really worried at all!

2. Book ideas are copyrighted the moment you dream them up. Wrongo! Big time Myth! They're not even your's once you verbalize them to everyone you meet. Calling 'Copyright' is not like calling 'shotgun', just ask Al Gore, inventor of the internet. Hehehe! (Yes, I went there in my blog about picture books! It was just too tempting to resist.) According to the US Copyright Office, "Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, name, or title."

So my advice: hold on to your ideas until they are actually written. Otherwise, you open yourself up to someone stealing your great ideas! And if you want to write the twentieth book on hibernation, have at it! You have the right. Ideas are not copyrighted. However, that doesn't give you the permission to steal a writing buddy's idea! In fact, that's a major 'party foul'. So don't do it!

3. My copyright is protected forever. In fact, my future generations can live off of the royalties of my highly successful book. Half Myth and Half truth. According to the US Copyright Office " As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. " However, for works that are cowritten, they are protected for seventy years after the last living author dies. So, technically, the next two generations might benefit from your work. Woohoo!

4. I can totally take someone else's story and just rewrite it in my own way. I can write it better, anyway. They'll never know. Wrong. Maybe? And, wrong, you big jerk! Stealing is stealing! And the law is the law. The end!

5. I can post whatever I want and claim that it's 'fair use'.
Half myth and Half Truth. In order to be fair, you just can't go around using other people's work, unless you have the author's permission. You can, however, use a part of an author's work to crictize, comment on, use to teach, or use in a parody. But be forewarned, using 'fair use' as an excuse for stealing someone's work could get you into trouble, especially if you're profitting from it. So to be safe, unless you are honestly using someone's work, you should just stay away from other people's stuff. And if you're not sure about the terms of 'fair use', please look it up. After all, you wouldn't want someone using your working inappropriately, would you?

So in conclusion, know the law. It could very well make you or break your piggybank. Here is great article if you're interested in learning more about your rights as an author. And, of course, check with the US Copyright Office. After all, they are the experts.

Happy Writing, Everyone! And, remember, stealing is NOT cool!


  1. I like that our writing is copyrighted the moment we put it on paper. It makes me feel much safer!!

  2. Great information. I've been thinking about copyrighting when I'm finished with my revisions, but I'm not sure. I also heard somewhere that you could print out your MS and mail it back to yourself via certified mail. This gives you a time and date stamp also that is in the form of a federally protected receipt. You just can't open the package. It must remain sealed by the post office.

  3. Good points, but there is one thing that needs clarification. It is repeatedly said (in writing books, in writing groups, at literary conferences, from the mouths of agents and editors) that copywriting an unpublished work is the mark of an amateur. You can't go back and fix anything in it once it's copywritten. Also, in response to T C, there is not point in mailing yourself your manuscript. If you've written your manuscript on a computer (which I don't know many writers who don't anymore) then there is an obvious log on your computer of when everything was written, created, corrected, etc.

    I think people get a bit too paranoid with their writing, but in all honesty, who is going to rip off an unpublished author to begin with?

    Thanks for the informative post!

    ♥ Mary Mary

  4. Good Points, Mary Mary. Thanks for adding that!Now that you mention it, I believe that I've heard that on a blog or two. And I agree with all of that, except the bit about ripping off an unpublished author.

    In my opinion(I'm VERY opionated), a crook is a crook. If I'm going to steal a rare diamond, it matters not whether I'm stealing from the delivery service who transports the jewels, or the rich heiress wearing them. A gem is a gem. A smart criminal will steal from the most vulnerable party. In some cases, that is the unpublished author who can't afford to sue. And that, is why some people are paranoid. I know that, that's why I felt paranoid when I first started out(a whole year and few months ago).

    But now, I feel more like you on the subject. While I do feel that my work is worthy of theft (LOL), I don't fear it. I know that I'm protected. And, I hope that my fellow newbees will come to feel the same way.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. My husband is always telling me to be careful with my ideas! Nice post.

  6. Informative post! The fact that as soon as writing's down in words it's copyrighted is a comfort to the writer part of me.

  7. Great post. Agree with all. Hope this wasn't inspired by a personal event, though it doesn't sound like it was.

    On your ms submissions, definitely don't put a copyright symbol on it. When your work goes to get published, the publisher will take care of getting it copyrighted. They don't want it to be published in 2011 with a 2007 copyright date. That would look bad on them and make it seem automatically outdated.

  8. This is a great post Jess, I put it in my Top 3 on Friday. I have to say that you might just have a story there: My Work is Worthy of Theft sounds like a great YA thriller :)

  9. Christie, No, it was inspired by our pb chat last weekend about plagiarism.

    Catherine, LOL:) If only I could write YA. Unfortunately,it's not for me. Believe me, I've tried. I'm terrible. I'm more of a PB and MG type of gal.