Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Legally Own Your Work: How to Copyright Your Stuff

I've put some poetry on here but stories are my thing. I'd like to put some up but the main concern holding me back is that this is a public venue and there is no legal protection of my work. I asked a professor of mine, Hans Ostrom, who regularly puts his poetry in his blog, about the copyrighting process and his peace of mind. I thought I should put what I learned regarding the copyright process up here for the benefit of other creative writers.

There are two ways to go about copyrighting your work: Go through the U.S. Government. There is always a fee if you do it this way. You can go to this site and check it out: http://www.copyright.gov/. Here you can find everything from long winded descriptions of legalities to hokey anime animations that break down the whole process for you. Doing it this way is expensive, especially if you have a lot of pieces that are not part of a larger collection. 

There is a much simpler and cheaper way to go about this that will cost only as much as your work's weight in postage stamps. Mail the thing to yourself. Just make sure that it has a clear date stamped on the envelope. When you receive your present in the mail, don't open it. Keep it as proof that you have in fact copyrighted your work. You can mail novels, stories and poetry to yourself individually or together as a large collection. It's really up to you and what your own ideas are about how your work should be published. For instance, if you send a collection of short stories to yourself but a year later add two more stories to that collection to make a new edition, the new stories are not copyrighted. To be considered a part of the whole collection you would have to re-mail the collection to yourself with the new stories included. The new date stamp is the new copyright date. Of course, this information is heavily informal and should be researched again before you consider copyrighting. Here is an interesting site that debates the issue (because it is an issue): http://www.copyrightauthority.com/poor-mans-copyright. Copyrighting your work protects your work and makes sure that you lawfully receive credit whenever someone other than yourself publishes it. Which ever method you use, make sure you understand all of the laws associated with that method and above all, make sure you are comfortable with using that method for something you worked hard to create. 

1 comment:

Steve said...

One small point, which doesn't diminish your post, is that owning the copyright and being able to prove it does NOT guarantee you will be compensated if someone uses your work. You first have to find them, and then they have the opportunity to remove it from their website. Only if you find them, contact them, and they refuse to remove it can you sue them... and then you have to prove monetary damages before you can collect any real money. Most people who 'borrow' stuff from the web know it's too costly to go after them and the author usually can't prove actual loss of income, so ripping things off has become common. Even copyrighted things!