Things You Might Like to Know about Copyrights

By: Jan K.

You may be under the false impression that before you can get your
text published, you must "get the copyright" to your own
written
material. You might also think that in order to get the copyright,
you must "apply" for it. This is just not so. In the
following few
paragraphs, I'll give you some simple facts about copyrights that
may help you in your quest to get published.

First, it is important to understand that you cannot
"copyright" an idea; you can only copyright what you have
written.
That is, you might have just written the greatest self-help manual on
how to breed guppies. And you did, indeed, file for your copyright
with the Library of Congress. Three weeks after completing the formal
copyrighting process, you find out that the manager of your
neighborhood pet store (where you've been buying your guppies)
has just sold the TV rights to a new hit show "Breeding
Guppies" and
he is using many of the same principles that you've outlined in
your
manual on how to go about guppy breeding.

So, naturally, since this is the 21st Century and you live in
America, you want to sue the guy. You think you have a sure thing,
and you are dreaming of the million-dollar award that the jury is
sure to give you. But…you'd better not put a down payment on
that Guppy Farm in Iowa just yet.

The manual you wrote, the exact words, phrases, sentences,
paragraphs, and chapters that you wrote, belong to you. It is illegal
for anyone to reproduce or use any of that text, in part or in whole,
for profit without your permission. However, you must be able to
prove that your exact words have been stolen before you can get an
award for copyright infringement. So, you know that guy with his hit
TV series? Well, unless he's reading from your manual
word-for-word,
or attempting to sell your manual as a supplemental text that
he's
written, then he's probably doing nothing illegal. He's just
using
the idea of breeding guppies.

You do "own" the copyright to your text, all its words and
clever phrases.

And you don't even have to file with the Library
of Congress in order to have the copyright on your text. The
copyright is conferred upon you the minute you write your New York
Times Bestseller. All you have to do is be able to prove, beyond any
doubt, the date that you wrote the material. For your protection,
then, it is wise to print and date your material, and establish with
a third party through a written communication that you have just
finished your text. At that time, you can legally affix the copyright
symbol (the letter c inside a circle) to your work.

Now here's where a formal copyright comes in. By filing with the
Library of Congress (and paying them their required application fee),
you can establish definitively a date of copyright that will stand up
in any court of law. Any judge or jury will defer to your date over
someone else who can merely claim by word of mouth that his text came
before yours. It's a good idea to formally copyright any text
that you are planning to market. So, if you're convinced that the
world population-at-large is in desperate need of "Breeding
Guppies,
What Every Ichthyologist Needs to Know" and you plan to sell it on
Ebay for $19.95, you should apply for a formal copyright.

Just having the copyright, however, doesn't mean that other
people can't quote your work. They may do so, as long as you are
given full credit for having written it prior to their use. This is
called a "reference" or a "citation" and generally,
whatever passage
is being quoted will appear offset in quotation marks (so that the
reader can visualize which words belong to someone other than the
author of the text in which the quote appears). Of course, at present
the contingent of Copyright Police is not up to tracking down every
single instance of copyright infringement, and chances are that not
everyone cites original authors as scrupulously as they should, so
beware of whom you casually let look at or read your text (or to whom
you give a copy).

Copyrights are not forever. Typically, a copyright lasts for 50 years
past the natural life of the original author. Authors' heirs may
sometimes re-apply for copyrights, but generally written texts that
are this old are considered "public domain" and may be
reproduced
without paying the author's family a royalty fee.

In the publishing world, you will find that many publications require
that you relinquish your copyrights to the work in return for having
your work published. This is a fairly standard procedure—unless
your name happens to be Stephen King or Danielle Steele. Once
you've
relinquished your copyright to a given work, you can not sell or
submit that text again unless you get express approval from the
publisher that now owns the copyright.

There are sites on the World Wide Web where you can post your work
for others to read or use as they see fit, so-called "free
sites." In cases such as this, there should be a disclaimer that
anyone who uses or reproduces your work must give you full credit.
Whether this happens all the time is certainly a matter for some
speculation, but your safeguard is that you own the copyright and if
you find that someone is profiting from your work and that you have
not been compensated, you can file a copyright infringement suit
against them.

As of the date of this articleFind Article, the current copyright fee is $30. All
the instructions and necessary forms can be found on U.S. Copyright
Office's web site: http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/. I have
copyrighted several texts and advise that you mail your application
with a "Return Receipt Requested" from the U.S. Post Office.
This is your proof that the Copyright Office has received your
copyright application.

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