What is copyright? Is my work copyrighted when River Sanctuary Publishing publishes it?
Your work (and any author’s work) is copyrighted from the moment you have written it. The information included on the copyright page of your book…
Copyright © 2015 by [Author]
…legally accomplishes that. This claim of ownership is understood and respected by most members of the general public. Does it mean that you are protected against someone taking what you have written and claiming it to be his or her own? Not even a registered copyright protects you from that remote possibility… it just sets you up to be able to sue for damages. But would you sue for damages? That is the question you want to ask yourself…
It is also important to understand that what you are copyrighting is the exact wording you used – your writing exactly as you have presented it in your book. Ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted (in truth, they CAN BE, but this becomes a much more complex process).
What if another person quotes from my book in their own work?
According to the copyright notice that appears in your book, they should request your permission before doing so, and, if they have done so without asking you, this would be a violation of copyright. However, as an unwritten rule in the world of publishing, “short quotes” are allowable without requesting permission (i.e., without threat of litigation) as long as proper credit is given to the author. [However, stricter rules apply to poetry and even stricter rules to song lyrics, so always use caution whenever quoting from these mediums.] If someone uses a short quote from your work, and refers to your work in their list of references, it is likely to be of benefit rather than harm to you.
It is RSP’s counsel to authors is that it is not necessary to file your work with the US Copyright Office unless you are an author whose work is likely to attract substantial public interest, and you (the author) would be willing and able to sue for damages from an occurrence of copyright infringement. RSP is the “publisher” by name, but in fact we are acting as a contractor assisting you to self-publish, so you have the right to determine the rules by which you would like to play. If you would be eager and in a position to engage in litigation for damages against someone who quotes your work without permission or are concerned that someone might “steal your work,” the prudent thing to do is to register your work with the Copyright Office.
It is easy and inexpensive to register your work with the US Copyright Office. You may do so by mail or electronically. You will need to send a copy of the book to the Copyright Office.
How do I file my book with the US Copyright Office?
There is a great deal of information available on the United States Copyright Office website:
Electronic filing has the shorter processing time: up to 8 months.
Processing time for registration with paper forms: up to 13 months.
Select “Register a Copyright” and follow the instructions from there. Cost is (as of November 2014) $35 or $55 depending on whether you file electronically or by mail. You will need to submit a copy of your work to the Copyright Office.
If, at this point, you are still uncertain about whether or not to register your work with the Copyright Office, the following information will give you more food for thought:
Is my work copyrighted if I don’t register it?
Your work is automatically protected by the copyright law from the moment it is created – fixed in a tangible medium – even though you have not registered it with the Copyright Office. You do not have to register a claim to copyright in your work in order to reproduce, distribute, market, transfer ownership, or license your work. So why bother to go through the formality of registration?
Why register my work with the Copyright Office?
Many benefits do result from registration and substantial detriments can result from failure to register. Moreover, registration is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive process. If registration involved much expense or a complex procedure, then there might be instances in which the owner of a work would not consider it to be of significant enough value to warrant registration. But in most cases, it should be worth the small effort and cost. The potential of the work and its use cannot be predicted, so why not assure yourself of all of the benefits offered by copyright registration? What might appear to be an insignificant work could later catch on and become a real money-maker or professional plum.
Even if your work has not been registered and it eventually becomes valuable, you usually can save many of the rights available under the copyright statute by registering the work as soon as you realize its worth. It is the qualifying “usually” and “many of the rights” that can be critical. Failure to register could be an irrevocable disaster in a limited number of situations. The minimal cost and effort required to avoid such problems usually weighs strongly in favor of registration.
Benefits of Copyright Registration
Some of the advantages of, or reasons for, copyright registration follow:
- If your work is registered with the United States Copyright Office, you are entitled to sue in the federal courts anyone who copies, distributes, performs, or otherwise uses your work without your consent. You cannot sue for copyright infringement until your claim to copyright is registered.
- Copyright registration before someone begins an infringing use of your work is a prerequisite to the recovery of statutory damages and attorney’s fees (both of which can be substantial) in an infringement suit. Actual damages and the additional profits of an infringer may be recovered even though registration occurs after the infringement begins. However, failure to copyright at an early date may reduce the potential recovery from an infringer to the degree that it makes litigation economically unfeasible.
- A copyright-registration certificate, when introduced into evidence in litigation, will constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of your copyright and the facts stated in the certificate, if the claim to copyright was registered before publication or within five years of publication of your work. Thus, you have the advantage of forcing your opponent to overcome the presumption that your rights are valid.
- Copyright registration can be employed to correct or overcome the omission of the copyright notice from published copies of your work. If you publicly distribute a substantial number of copies without the proper copyright notice, your rights in the work will expire five years from publication unless you register a claim to copyright and place the proper copyright notice on the copies distributed after discovery of the error.
- Copyright registration will reduce the likelihood of others “innocently” infringing your work as a result of errors or the omission of the copyright notice. If the name in your copyright notice is incorrect – for example, the name of a former copyright owner or the owner of a collective work – your copyright registration will prohibit the ability of others to deal “innocently” with the person named in the copyright notice.
- Your application for copyright registration will be reviewed for the proper statutory formalities by the Copyright Office, and it may bring to your attention correctable errors. Correction of errors in the copyright notice at an early date will minimize the likelihood of innocent infringement of your work, as well as total loss of your rights.
- Copyright registration provides the basis for a permanent, official record of ownership on file with the United States Copyright Office. Moreover, if your work is registered, assignments, licenses, mortgages, and bequests can be recorded in the Copyright Office and they will be given the effect of constructive notice to others throughout the United States of the rights affected.
- Copyright registration also can lead to marketing opportunities. Those who are interested in a particular subject may discover your work through the records of the Copyright Office and contact you regarding possible business opportunities. You may be able to convert a potential infringer into a profitable licensee.
Best Time to Register
The information regarding the advantages of copyright registration and the effects of failure to register should help you decide IF you want to register your work. The next question is: When is the best time to apply for copyright registration? You can register claims to copyright at any time you wish in all types of works that are fixed in a tangible medium—prior to publication, at the time of publication, after publication, or even without the intent to ever publish.
The “best” time to register your work will depend upon your individual circumstances. For most creators of copyrightable works, the best time probably will fall somewhere between completion of the work and three months after publication. Waiting until completion will avoid the need for multiple registrations of portions of the work. Delaying registration for any substantial period of time after publication usually has little advantage and may cause a significant loss of rights.
If you register your claim to copyright in your work within three months of its publication, you will be able to recover statuary damages and attorney’s fees from any infringer who commences infringement after publication. You are given a three-month grace period after publication in which to register your work and have the registration be effective in preserving statutory damages and attorney’s fees as of the publication date.
Excerpted from How to Register a Copyright and protect your Creative Work, by Robert B. Chickering and Susan Hartman; Publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York