Today I’m going to jibber about copyright, and why you, as an artist or writer, should consider shelling out for it, especially if you are self-publishing.
*Note – I’m not a lawyer, so when you read this post, keep that in mind.
“But Katty,” you say, “We don’t have to worry about copyright. United States law says that the moment you write/create it, it’s copyrighted.”
Well, yes. That’s true. Technically.
You see, while it is technically true that the minute you make item X, it is legally yours, PROVING that you made it, in a court of law, WITHOUT evidence of formally registering a copyright is frick-near impossible. It can be done, just not easily or cheaply. And if you’re self-publishing your work, you want all the legal protection you can get without having to pay for a lawyer on retainer (That would be awesome to make so much money that you could just pick up the phone and call “your lawyer” anytime, day or night… ah, well. Back to reality.)
Pirates abound out there, and while you should submit a cease and desist letter every time you find evidence of your work being pirated (You busted your ass to make it – do you really want someone else to make money off of your blood, sweat and tears?), some sites request that you show them PROOF that you are, in fact, the actual owner/creator of the piece in question.
As of the time of this posting, Amazon, apparently tired of hearing people whine about pirates submitting someone else’s work as their own and getting paid for it and wading through cease and desist form letters, has begun requesting “proof” that novel/story X belongs to the writer uploading it. Thus far, it’s been a random check on the part of Amazon, and some folks have stated that they’ve been able to send a plain statement of “I am the owner/creator of this work and own all the rights thereof,” and that’s been accepted, but that won’t really hold up in a court of law. I personally get the feeling that sooner or later Amazon is going to be sued for accepted such unverifiable statements. Sooner or later, a pirate is going to say, “why yes, I AM the original author,” and later the original author will stand up and say, “Ah, no. I have proof of copyright. And oh, by the way, I want all the money Amazon paid you for selling MY WORK under your name. Plus damages.”
All right, that case may not REALLY happen (Amazon is more likely to just settle out of court or drag it out until original author X runs out of funds, but then you run the risk of a class-action lawsuit, blah, blah, blah.), but something similar may happen, in the near future. And companies like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Draft to Digital, etc, are going to want a CYA for their assets to avoid that situation. Thus far, the only legally recognized document that can do that (in the US, that I know of, and I’m not a lawyer), is a registered copyright.
“But Katty, it takes FOREVER to get a copyright processed.”
At about the time of this writing, projected wait time is 7 months to a year. However, once you start the process of copyright (uploading your work, paying your fee and getting your email receipt), you can put the little “Copyright XXYEARXX” in the front matter of your book. You don’t have to wait for the official confirmation to have the legal protection that a registered copyright buys you.