Information about Copyright and Copyright Registration

Awhile back, I wrote an article about the basics of copyright and copyright registration. I refer you to that article here, so you can read about the difference between a natural copyright and a registered copyright. To learn a bit more about copyright, and some frequently asked questions, you can also read this article I wrote about it.

Now, read those first, and then we’ll talk about copyright.

done? good….

Writing & Copyright Basics

All right, the basics. The copyright office changed things sometime in the ’80s so that now, when you write something, the minute it’s put in tangible form, you own a copyright on it. As I tap out this blog post, as each letter, each word is added to it, that word as part of the whole is immediately copyrighted to me under a natural copyright. I don’t have to click publish. I don’t have to DO anything. The copyright is mine by just simply putting the words down. I can delete them, I can publish them, I can promote them, I can sell them for value (make money from them), I can promote and distribute them, and I can even give someone else permission to use them, and if I really wanted to, I could sell my copyright to someone else, and then they would own my writing.

Do I Have to Put the Copyright Symbol on My Writing to Have a Copyright?

At one point in the distant past, having the copyright notification was required in order to take advantage of copyright protection. The copyright office states that the copyright notification is no longer required in order to enforce copyright protection. Writing is given an automatic natural copyright to the creator the minute it is created, and the copyright symb0l, while a good idea for additional professionalism, is not required to enforce a copyright.

What if Someone Uses My Writing Without Permission?

If someone uses my writing without my permission, I have a right to demand they take it down, destroy it, cease and desist using it. If someone else distributes or disseminates my information without my express permission, I have a right to ask them to stop, get a court order to force them to stop and even sue them for ACTUAL tangible physical damages for having done so.

When Should I Copyright My Writing?

Because a natural copyright is granted to your work the minute you pull it out of your mind and to your fingertips to make it tangible, you own a copyright on that work. There is no need to register that copyright in order to enforce it. If you want to register a copyright to provide additional protection, it’s important to note a few things. If you sell the writing to a publication, you will be granting rights to them, and one of those rights ‘might’ be copyright, and if it’s registered, transferring copyright can complicate a registered copyright issue, and you will have essentially wasted the money.

People who write web content, such as blogs and for article content sites will find that registering a copyright on their articles is simply absurd, since they will very rarely make enough money on their content to warrant registering a copyright.

People who intend to self publish should register a copyright at the time the book they are self publishing is being printed, and copies of the completed work should be on file with the copyright office. If you do not intend to self publish, you should not register your book for copyright protection prior to submitting to publishers.

Should I Register a Book-Length Manuscript Before Submitting?

No. As stated above, you should not register a copyright on a novel prior to submission to publishers. You already own the copyright once you wrote each page of the novel, but there’s another reason not to register the copyright. The publisher will, as part of the publishing process, copyright the book to you, and if you use a pen name once published, or if your manuscript is rewritten or edited before being published (and trust me, it will be) then your copyright of the book and the publisher copyrighting it for you, will conflict with one another. A real, reputable trade publisher will register your copyright.

If I Don’t Register Copyright Before Submitting, Can’t a Publisher or Agent STEAL My Work?

They could, but why would they? It is highly, highly unlikely a reputable agent or publisher would steal your manuscript and use it. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so even if you had copyright protection, they could write a ‘similar’ story based on the concept and you couldn’t do a thing about it, but it likely wouldn’t turn out anything like your story anyway. There truly aren’t any completely original ‘new’ stories in the world; all are variations of themes anyway, and you’d be hard pressed to say the ‘concept’ was yours and yours alone, but the writing won’t be yours.

There are a lot of people who worry about copyright when they are writing stories, particularly novel-length works, and are sharing that with editors or submitting to publishing houses. While I understand your fear and concern, truly I do, if you are doing your research and submitting only to reputable and and long-standing publishers or agents, you’re not going to run into this problem. No agent or publisher is going to steal your work and risk their entire reputation and career on it.

If you’re submitting to small, untried, unreported publishers…. why? Stop that!

CAN you register a copyright on your manuscript before submitting it?

Yes, absolutely. You shouldn’t, but you can. It costs you to do so, and the publisher will have to re-register the edited final copy of the manuscript when it’s made into a book and they will do that at their cost, but if the 35-45 bucks and the wait time to register the copyright before you start submitting is fine with you, and you don’t mind having to deal with potential legal issues when it’s time for a big publisher to register your copyright when you sell your manuscript, then by all means, register it. (This is sarcasm, for those who don’t recognize it.)

However, since the courts do allow for ACTUAL damages, you can argue in court if you can prove your copyright, that any monies the infringing party earned from the sale of your work are actual damages. Statutory damages cannot be awarded without registration.

My point here is, an unsold manuscript doesn’t require copyright protection and it’s best not to register your copyright before submitting.

What About Critiques and Editing?

When dealing with editors who are not a part of a publishing house, such as pre-submission editors you might hire to make your manuscript perfect prior to submission to a reputable publishing house, it can’t hurt to ask for an NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement), just in case. I am a pre-submission editor, and I always offer a non-disclosure agreement to any author who wants one, and any work I do is under an NDA even if I don’t actually send one to the author.

Be sure to check the background, references, and published credits of an editor you hire to prepare your manuscript for submission to a publisher. Most freelance editors will begin working with small publishers first before going out on their own, or else they’ll get assignments through freelance bidding agencies, so there should be a track record for the editor you can ask about. Do NOT insult the editor by asking, “How do I know you won’t steal my work?” Not only is this insinuation and insulting, but it shows you’re a novice and aren’t aware that you have a copyright on your story already, even if it’s not registered!

However, asking for a non-disclosure agreement to protect both you and the editor should not insult the editor, so don’t be afraid to ask for one.

It’s highly unlikely someone will steal your work, but it’s better safe than sorry, right?

Copyright Questions?

I’m not an expert, per se, but I do know a lot about copyright and I have an attorney on retainer for all my business needs. If you have a question about copyright, ask it in the comments, and I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction of an answer or answer it if I know it.

Love and stuff,
Michy