Some Copyright Basics

As authors, we need to become familiar with the basics of copyright and copyright law. In this blog, I share a few things regarding it, but I encourage authors to study and research it for themselves as well.

Why Register A Copyright?

The Law: the moment a work is in fixed form, it is copyrighted under the law. So, why register a copyright with the copyright office? Here are two reasons.

  • It provides proof in a court of law that you are the owner in case someone infringes on your copyright. The Copyright Office provides a Certificate of Registration and a Registration Number indicating the effective date of registration for each copyrighted work.
  • You cannot file a lawsuit for infringement in federal court if your work isn’t registered. Without registration, it’s more difficult to prove ownership. The law gives authors three months to register after publication, or else they must be registered before the first infringement occurs.
  • Your work will be listed in the Library of Congress.

For details on how to register your copyright, download Circular 2, “Copyright Registration.” See links at end of this blog.

Mandatory Deposit: It’s the Law

Although authors don’t have to register their work with the copyright office, the law requires them to deposit a required number of copies of their work with the office. If an author registers his/her work, they will meet this requirement because depositing their published work is part of the registration process.

For more information, download Circular 7D, “Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonograph Records for the Library of Congress.” See links at end of this blog.

Infringement & Plagiarism

Infringement

Ideas cannot be copyrighted. After all, how many Civil War novels are out there? How many historical romances with similar plots? No plot is truly original but the story’s expression, the way the author writes it, must be the author’s original work.

For example, if I create a character, say an army scout just like Hondo Lane in Louis L’Amour’s novel Hondo, I’ve infringed on his copyright. I can write a Western using an army scout as the main character, but my scout must be unique to me— how I depict/express him.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is “literary theft.” It’s presenting someone else’s work as your own.

What Are Some Plagiarisms?

  • Copying another author’s work word-for-word and using it as your own.
  • Paraphrasing another person’s words and ideas without crediting the source.
  • Authors plagiarize themselves when they use one of their previously published works in a current work and don’t cite it.

The above information on plagiarism comes from the MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016. I recommend every author get a copy of this book, especially those who write nonfiction.

I recommend going to the copyright office’s website, download the circulars that apply, then read and study them. As authors, we need to at least become familiar with its basics.

Recommended Links

Circulars | U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright Protection – Why Should You Register Copyrights? – Gerben Law Firm

Top 10 Reasons You Should Register Your Copyright – FindLaw

Recommended Book

MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

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