Do You Need To Register Your Copyright?

10:23 AM Elizabeth Seckman 37 Comments

Hey, sweet babies are always fun.
Eric and daughter, Alexis
I'm turning the blog over to Mr. Eric Johnston. Eric started a blog site and he's looking to meet other bloggers. You can join him at Eric R. Johnston.

 He's an editor and writer at World Castle Publishing, and since I've been at WC, he's been super helpful (he's the editor behind "Past Due") and always willing to answer questions. So, I asked him...

Does a writer need to register their copyright? 

Technically, no.

According to the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright exists from the moment the work is created,” whether you register or not.

But let’s look at a scenario to explain why you should.

 Ryan just published his first novel, and he’s ecstatic. He’s getting okay sales, but hopes he can do better. His book is enrolled in Amazon’s KDP program, which allows for five days of free kindle downloads to help him build a wider audience, and maybe to hook a few readers who were on the fence about shelling out five or six dollars on a new author. Then, after mediocre sales, he decides to google his name and his book title to see if maybe he can find evidence of an internet fan-base. Maybe there are some reviews out there, maybe some websites dedicated to the great Ryan, the next Stephen King. He knows there were many copies of his book downloaded for free from Amazon, and he hopes to get some sort of feedback.

 Instead of reviews, he finds website after website after website—websites in the hundreds, in the thousands even—giving his book away for free. Now, Ryan thinks, “I authorized Amazon to give away my book for free for the period of five days. I didn’t authorize this.” He’s frustrated. He feels like his work was stolen from him. People are downloading and reading his book, not paying him, and he has no control over it.

There’s nothing he can do.

Or is there?

This is where we get into the area of copyright law.

A work, as soon as it is committed to paper, is under copyright. Ryan owns the copyright to his work as the author. Meaning, essentially, that he owns the execution to the particular idea. To be clear, he doesn’t own the idea itself. He has a story about a scientist who builds a time machine to travel to the past, but instead gets hopelessly lost in a post-apocalyptic world of the future. The idea sounds somewhat like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, but the execution of it is purely his own. But does he really own the copyright? He doesn’t have any documents saying so. If he were to take the owners of these pirate sites to court, he knows he has the burden of proof. Meaning, he has a to prove his case. The pirates don’t have to prove anything—innocent until proven guilty, and all that jazz. He can’t just say these pirates do not have authority to give away his book unless he can prove it. Alas, even though he owns the rights to the work, and someone is clearly stealing it, he does not have a case.

 Luckily, there is an option. Since he published the work less than five years ago, he can register the copyright, and this will be satisfactory proof of ownership, even if he didn’t register until after he discovered the crime. So how does one obtain proof of copyright? This is important for any self-published author or any author whose publisher does not register the copyright for them. The easiest and cheapest way to register your copyright is to go to www.copyright.gov. It costs only $35, and allows you to sue for damages and legal fees. It’s definitely a worthwhile investment. The forms are right on the website, and they walk you through it step-by-step.

Thanks Eric!
Questions? 

37 comments:

  1. That is really good information - thank you, Eric! I was not aware that you could register a copyright after you become aware of a violation. I always assumed that you were out of luck if you didn't have it prior to the issue.

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    1. I thought the ISBN # from the publisher was enough, but for $35...I'd rather err on the side of caution. And this technophobe just did it. The process was as painless as he promised!

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  2. That is good to know. There's a lot of piracy out there.

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    1. So much so that I wouldn't swear that it has never happened in my own house.

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  3. You will be surprised just how prevalent piracy is. I remember a few years ago (maybe it was ten years ago, my how time flies) with the uproar about NAPSTER and music file sharing. The biggest band behind the lawsuit to shut it down was Metallica, a band that in the beginning built their fanbase by distributing free copies of their demos. Because of this, they were largely seen as hypocrites. It wasn't until I saw my books offered for free on pirating sites that I understood that it wasn't about the money. In fact, I've given away thousands of my books for free. It's about CONTROL of whether or not you will be compensated for your art.

    With copyright registration, thereby making the fact of your copyright a matter of public record, you have a chance to regain some of that control. It may not take an actual lawsuit, but it always feels good to be able to make good on a threat if you have to.

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  4. Thank you for this blogpost. I plan to self publish and this information has give me a lot to consider.

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  5. This is a really interesting topic, Elizabeth. I had never even thought of the piracy that happens even if your book is on Amazon. Thanks for the concrete facts on copyright.

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    1. I don't think you'll ever be able to stop piracy, but at least you can have the tools to do so if it gets out of hand.

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  6. Hey,

    Wow, interesting topic that I knew little about (I was on the impression that once written that was enough)

    Once WIP is done, I'm going to head over to that website:)

    Thanks (and Hi "Beth" :)~

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    1. Hey Koop-a-loop. Who would dare steal from the Amazing Irishman?!

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  7. Fascinating. I've never thought of that before! I can see why having a copywrite is important. Thanks for the info, Elizabeth and Eric!

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  8. Wow! And I thought I was safe with my computer time and date stamp. What a terrible thing to discover your book has been pirated. Thanks for posting this, Elizabeth and I hope Eric recovers control over his property!

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    1. If anyone os pirating mine, it's bc I have bad karma accumulated form all those times I dubbed cassette tapes over the last century!

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    2. Man, could I have butchered those words anymore...dang trying to eat and type!!!

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  9. If I have heard correctly, you can register more than one work for that $35 fee. You have to submit for the multiple works all at once.

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    1. Thanks for the info Mark! I LOVE a money saver!!!

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  10. A lot to digest but such great info! thank you!

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    1. I hear ya Tammy!! I'm finding almost everything in publishing makes my head spin just a little!

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  11. I learned a lot by reading this. I'm sorry to hear about Eric's experience with free books. I do have one of my books registered. Have to get on the ball with the others!

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    1. Mark Murata commented above that you can register more than one for the $35 fee, so having a few to do might be a money saver!

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  12. I will be doing this. :) Great advice.

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  13. Wow that's great to know. I'm bookmarking this page for later. Thanks, Eric and Elizabeth!

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  14. Great information in this post today. Saving this to read again. Thanks.

    Nas

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    1. Oooh flowery heart...love it. Glad it was useful. :)

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  15. Great information! I really need to look into this... Thank you!! :)

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  16. The most searched way people find my blog is by looking for free copies of my book... so yeah... Protect Yourself :-D

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  17. I just want to say thanks for stopping by my blog and your kind words of encouragement. Love your blog.

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    1. My pleasure! I really enjoy checking out blogs...I just wish I had more time to hit them all!

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  18. Thanks a lot for this info. Great advice.

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  19. Great information, thanks for sharing. Here I was thinking finishing the book was going to be the hard part...

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