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!

ledge

Nightmare On Acid Street

In my mind, I flash back to a time years ago, and the image strikes me with peculiar clarity—the dismal boarding house where I lived when I was newly sober, the shattering acid flashback with its neon cockroaches skittering across the dirty ceiling. Then, further back...
indie author

What I’ve Learned In Six Years of Growing An Indie Author Business

As someone who’s spent the better part of the past 20 years making his living as a writer, I definitely have some opinions on what works and what doesn’t in this business. However, there is a subset of that 20 years, and that’s the novelist part of the equation. Some...

Frustrated By the Publishing Process?

Beep. Beep. Beep. You wake up bright and early to the sound of the dreaded alarm clock. First thing, you brew some coffee and grab your computer. It’s a Thursday, so you have to go to work, but you feel compelled to start each day with a bit of writing. You also...
newsletter

A Sneak Peek at My Latest Quarterly Newsletter—And An Invitation

Okay, I'll admit right out of the gate that this isn't really a "sneak peek." My subscribers got it yesterday. Most of what I send them each quarter is content exclusive to subscribers, but every once in a while I'll share something here as well. The following is from...
book

Who Gives A Damn About Your Book?

Back in April, I wrote a blog post called What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Growing An Indie Author Business. Since I have those six years of experience, I figured I’d list six things I’d learned—not necessarily one per year, but one for each year. The response was...
Whizzers

New Year, New Projects

"A goal is a dream with a deadline." - Napoleon HillI had this quote in my head today without actually remembering who said it. So I was a little surprised when I looked it up and found it attributed to Napoleon Hill. After all, I'm more likely to remember Charles...
labor

Labor Day 2022

To all my working friends, and those of you who worked hard until you retired: I'm taking the day off, and hope you are too. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for this quarter's newsletter, appearing in your inbox tomorrow. If you're not signed up, get it here. Happy Labor...

A Little Pay Upfront…or A Lot More Pay Year After Year

So many writers think they should never pay for publishing. I don't blame them for thinking that way, but here’s how it really plays out. Authors are natural idealists, so of course we typically figure we can get a deal with a big publishing company, leading to smooth...
music

“Music Hath Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast”

So wrote William Congreve in 1697, and it’s still true today. Of course, not everyone today understands that “hath” meant “has,” or that a “savage breast” was another way of saying “wild heart.” And these days, more music is made to stimulate than to calm.My own...
answer

We’re All Looking For The Answer

Today’s post is a bit of a topic combo, if there is such a thing. What’s on my mind? Elements of a February 2019 post called No More For The Road and the March 2019 post I Survived Catholic School. Don’t worry. I won’t repeat what’s in them. You can read them for...
self-promotion

What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...
MLK

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
rails

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...
French

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...
scared

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...
censorship

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...
robot

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...