When Do You Need To Copyright Your Work?

by | Jan 6, 2020 | Articles | 0 comments

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a couple of well-received blog posts on the publishing process, one of which is about the importance of having a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) and the other of which is called What’s the Risk to Not Having A Cataloging-In-Publication (CIP) Data Block?

In all honesty, there was no tangible benefit to putting these articles out there. They’re really just ways I can do my fellow writers a solid by providing info and experience about my journey through the wonderful world of running a publishing company. And as always, I don’t claim to be an expert; this is my opinion.

 

So, About that Copyright

Now, any writing for public consumption should be copyrighted. We all know that. But even in the digital age, there’s still a lot of confusion about copyright.

Back in the days of typewriters—and yes, I am old enough to have been there—copyright was handled a little differently. Although many of us writers were well aware of the concept that something is “copyrighted to you” the minute you put pen to paper, we nonetheless worried about people stealing our work.

The old-fashioned way to “prove” that a work of writing was yours was to mail it to yourself, then 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. Boy, that seems like a long time ago.

 

Digital Man

In the digital age, writers still worry about theft of copyrighted work. But to be brutally honest, it’s highly unlikely anyone wants to steal your stuff. At least, not in the sense of stealing it, calling it their own, and publishing it. There’s just way too much content out there now, and tons more created every day.

The real worry, when it comes to copyrighted material, 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.

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 or $100 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 “substantially different” from the original. Again, practicality should win out here. Of course it’s going to be substantially 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 you’ll feel more like a “real writer” after you’ve submitted it.

 

Postscript

One final consideration: the time of year. Copyright applies to the year, really. Sure, your Amazon listing may have an actual date, but most people won’t look at that. Copyright 2020 means anytime during 2020. 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. My most recent novel is copyright 2019, but in the publishing world, all of 2019 is old news. Keep that in mind if you want to put something out late in the year!

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