Does Copyright Still Matter in the Digital Age?

by | Mar 8, 2021 | Articles | 2 comments

One thing about working as a full-time freelance writer: it’s usually feast or famine.

That means exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes you’re so busy that you almost forget to market your business, and other times, you’re looking for more projects.

This month is one of those busy times.

I’d originally intended to create a brand-new blog post today, but time constraints have forced me to recycle some of my own material. Fortunately, it’s an article from last year that I planned to reference anyway, called When Do You Need to Copyright Your Work?

 

Considering the Digital Age

The idea of copyright is an ancient one, but until recently most writers figured anything they wrote was automatically copyrighted to them. As I pointed out in last year’s article, back in the days of typewriters, copyright was handled a little differently. Though many of us writers were aware of the notion that something is “copyrighted to you” the moment you put pen to paper, we nonetheless worried about people stealing our work.

One old-fashioned method of safeguarding a work of writing was to mail it to yourself and keep the unopened copy. The idea was that, in the event of a lawsuit, you could dramatically pull out the envelope and open it in court before all the witnesses, who would then be able to examine the postmark on the envelope.

Most writers still worry about theft of copyrighted work today but—to be brutally honest—it’s highly unlikely anyone wants to steal your stuff. At least, not in the sense of stealing it, slapping their name on it, and then publishing it. There’s just way too much content out there now, and tons more created every day.

When it comes to copyrighted material, a more realistic concern is that someone will take your ebook, upload it to a website, and give it away—much like music downloads depriving artists of those potential royalties. And yes, it has happened to me.

 

Making It Legal

The question of when to copyright is still an open one, but I say it’s fine to go ahead and do it right away. Once you have a few pages’ worth of something and you’re committed to seeing it through, it’s well worth spending the $75 to send it to copyright.gov. They’ll send you a hard copy of proof of copyright, which can take a few months. In theory, by the time you get your proof of copyright, you’ll have a complete, or nearly complete, manuscript.

Of course, there’s always the question of the work being “substantively different” from the original. Again, practicality should win out here. Of course it’s going to be substantively different, but enough of the original should be in your submitted manuscript so that it still resembles what you sent the copyright office. In the end, you’ll sleep better. And if it’s your first book, you’ll feel more like a “real writer” after you’ve submitted it.

One final consideration: the time of year. Copyright applies to the entire year, really. Sure, your Amazon listing may have an actual date, but most people won’t look at that. Copyright 2021 means anytime during 2021. So if you plan to milk the calendar and call something “new” as long as you can, you should publish relatively early in the year. Keep that in mind if you want to put something out late in the year—and don’t forget to update your website!

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