I found it interesting that I recently received a contract from Five Star Publishing (FiveStar/Gale/Cengage) that had specific information about copyrighting my book and, at almost the same time, received an email from the Authors’ Guild that discussed the topic of copyright.
A lot of times new writers are so afraid their work will be stolen they place the copyright symbol © on their work. If they send the ms to an agent or editor, that symbol alone tells the agent/editor that this is a new, unpublished writer. Why? Because it really isn’t necessary unless the piece is such a hot item others are lurking around, waiting to steal it. (And that doesn’t apply to 99.9% of the mss they receive.)
Basically the United States copyright law is governed by the federal Copyright Act of 1976. I won’t go into all of the parts of that law, but what writers need to know is the moment they put words to paper or into a computer file or as a blog or in any fixed form, it is copyrighted. It’s yours.
So why copyright your work at all?
The main reason is if you have to go to court over an infringement of the copyright, having the copyright registered through the U.S. Copyright Office will give your claim more strength.
And no, simply sending a copy of the work to yourself through unopened registered mail does not give you that protection.
Publishing houses used to always copyright the books they published. That is, they went through the process and paid the fee. I think it was some time in the early 1990s that writers began to learn that the publishers were no longer doing that. The copyright message was and still is printed in the book, but if the writer truly wanted the book officially copyrighted, he/she had to make the application and pay the fee. (Publishers saved money by no longer registering every book they published.)
For years this has been common knowledge, so I was surprised when the contract I just signed specifically stated that the copyright notice would be printed in the book, but I would have to do the filing myself if I wanted an officially registered copyright.
The email notice I received from the Authors’ Guild focused on how the book is registered. That is, under whose name is the work copyrighted?
The AG’s argument is all writers should have their work registered under their name, not the name of the publisher or the name of the university or company publishing the work. With most traditional publishers that’s not a problem. They print the copyright under the author’s name. (If a writer uses a pseudonym, you’ll sometimes see a different—the legal—name from what’s on the spine of the book.) If, however, the university or company has the work copyrighted under its name, the author is limited on how and where s/he can use the work or parts of the work…or even claim authorship.
So far I have never officially copyrighted my books, but I think I might do so with this new one, if nothing more than to see how the process works. It’s not expensive.
An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office. When the Copyright Office issues a registration certificate, it assigns as the effective date of registration the date it received all required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it took to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. The time needed to process applications varies depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving and the method of application. You can apply to register your copyright in one of two ways.
Online registration through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) is the preferred way to register basic claims for literary works; visual arts works; performing arts works, including motion pictures; sound recordings; and single serials. Advantages of online filing include:
• a lower filing fee – $35 for a single author who is also the sole claimant in a single work that is not made for hire – $55 for all other online filings
• the fastest processing time
• online status tracking
• secure payment by credit or debit card, electronic check, or Copyright Office deposit account
• the ability to upload certain categories of deposits directly into eCO as electronic files.
(Note: You can still register online and save money even if you submit a hard-copy deposit.)
Basic claims include
(1) a single work;
(2) multiple unpublished works