When (c) stands for Chucklehead

A long running debate on a large writers discussion board is whether or not to copyright your work prior to sending it to an agent. Some say if you do, you are flagging yourself as an amateur to a prospective agent, some advise that not doing it is leaving yourself open for a writer with a block to do a bit of creative plagiarism. A published author added that your ms is copyrighted as soon as you put words to paper. So, our all-knowing Miss Snark - I toss it to you yet again. Do I spend the money on copyright or can I put my spare pennies into my gas tank? Thanks!

First of all, everyone is right. And none of them have quite ALL the story.

Yes, your work has the protection of copyright as soon as it leaves your feather pen and hits the page.

Your work must be registered with the copyright office within three months of publication in order to sue for damages if someone lifts your work. PUBLISHERS register a copyright on behalf of the author; it's boilerplate in every book publishing contract, no exception.

The question you are asking is really two fold: do I register the copyright and do I write (c) on my cover sheet so everyone knows not to steal it.

Answer: no and no.

It does mark you as an amateur. If you want to really look like an ignoramus you'll write: (c) 2005, all rights reserved, do not reprint without author's permission.

The FIRST thing that happens to a manuscript I want to represent is that it goes on the copy machine and gets sent to people. You think you want to hear from me EVERY time I want to xerox it? Not in this lifetime bucko.

Secondly, it's a bit like pointing out "a human being wrote these words"...publishing people understand when copyright attaches so pointing it out is unneccesary.

Third, the idea that someone is going to steal things from your MANUSCRIPT is like worrying about being hit by an asteroid. Yes it's possible but really, I'm not trading in my fetching chapeau for a miner's helmet anytime soon. Acceptable risk.

All the plagiarism we've been talking about here involved an author lifting work that has been PUBLISHED. If there has been a case of a novelist having sections of a book stolen from manuscript form, I'd like to hear about it cause absolutely NONE come to mind.

None of this applies to screenwriting which is a whole different industry. Control of the content is a huge issue cause ideas do float around and you want to be careful who sees your stuff. But, if you send stuff to a literary agent, we're talking books even if you harbor dreams of an Oscar.

Save your money. Don't put (c) on your cover sheet. DO make sure you put your name address phone and email though.

And while we're at it: every page has Author/TITLE in upper left and page numbers in lower right.



David Isaak said...

I've come across a number of variants on the header/footer bit, including an editor who advised Title upper left, Last Name/Page # upper write.

Sol Stein advises putting everything at the bottom, so that when the reader turns the page their eyes are drawn into the text rather than flashing temporarily to the header. I started doing this about a year ago, and I've heard no negative feedback from my agent or anyone else. How much do you think this matters?

Miss Snark said...

My point was that writers NOT put a lot of other info on the manuscript pages themselves. I've gotten stuff in with 3inch headers on every page listing name address phone and favorite color. I've also gotten manuscripts with no page numbers--and on a summer day with the AC blowing, it was NOT pretty. I had to email the author for an entire new manuscript cause I couldn't put it back in order.

I vote for minimal distraction on the header and anything IN a header on the left side.

kitty said...

Is Art Buchwald’s case the same thing?

Dave Kuzminski said...

In my limited experience, the most likely culprits who will steal your written work are readers, churches, and businesses whose products are in line with something in your written text, even if you have a copyright notice on the page. Sadly, too many of them think it's fair use for them because it appeals to them emotionally and they want to feature it on their own web page or because they're just using it for a sermon. Some of these aren't even really guilty if the original culprit removed your byline before distributing it. Then everyone seems to think that it's in public domain even if there's a date in the written work that indicates it's based on some recent event meaning that some investigation should be made by them before reaching that assumption.

However, do not assume that everyone is ignorant of copyright as I know of at least one instance where a newspaper lifted a short true story and published it without permission. I know because it was something I wrote.

Still, this was something that was already published. It was something that had established its value even though I feel I could have written it better. In fact, I really have no knowledge of any unpublished work being stolen, not that it couldn't have happened. However, the point I'm making is that people tend to steal only what they recognize as valuable. For work that's been published that value has been determined already while unpublished work remains an unknown value.

So, even though some of my work has been copied and distributed before without my permission, I still agree with the general consensus that registering a copyright should be handled upon publication and not before. Until then, your work may go through numerous rewrites until little of it resembles the original draft and would then no longer be likely to be protected by that original copyright registration.

MaryB said...

All else aside, isn't the copyright sort of understood now (on unpublished works)? I've had things published on online journals where they've added the (c) with my name (same as the big-girls publishers, I guess), but I leave it off when I make submissions. Thanks for clarifying from the agent/publisher POV.

Stacy said...

Interesting discussion. I work for a publishing house, so my perspective is the man's, but my employer's are scrupulously attentive to copyright matters. In fact, what we have occasionally seen around here is unscrupulous authors, who make big stinking rows over editorial changes, then take the EDITED manuscript to another publisher, disregarding the substantial input made by the publisher and the editor after a year and a half of waiting around and HELPING them to produce a publishable manuscript. See, the law says its 100% theirs. Bah, humbug.

Nicholas Colt said...

I was wondering about publishing on the web in particular. Is something written on a blog, for instance, free for the taking?

Jillian said...

Off topic:

In a spell-check today, the word "snarkling" was unrecognized, and the suggestion given was "snorkeling."

Wonder how long it will take for these snarkish terms to become widely accepted...

Rhonda Stapleton said...

FYI - You can't take stuff off the web (e.g., from someone's blog) - that's a no-no, too.

Copyright law is really interesting, actually. I went to a seminar that talked about fair use, etc. It's hard to prove, and it has to be proven after the fact...so in essence, you have to defend your use...

Oh, and I hereby promise to never write any copyright info on my manuscript submissions. :D

Carter said...

And while we're at it: every page has Author/TITLE in upper left and page numbers in lower right.

Ummm. Where do we put the text?


Miss Snark said...

Carter, mon amour, you write it in tiny little letters on a twenty dollar bill and send it to Miss Snark of course. Sheesh. Must I lay it ALL out for y'all!!!