(c) Miss Snark

I recently completed my first novel and being a potential nitwit, I copyrighted it. At the time a certain amount of plagarism accusations were hitting the news so it seemed like a good idea. Since then I've been advised towards copywriting and against. The against advice frames the argument that it may date the work and cause publishers to think of it as stale. I'd like your expertly heeled self to settle the debate.

Nitwit or appropriately cautious?

First, there's a lot about copyright (NOT copywrite) in the Snarkives. Thanks to Miss Adventure (sainthood pending) those Snarkives are indexed. Dive in.

However, we're here now, looking at your (c) so let's review.

1. Your work enjoys copyright protection from the moment it is realized. That means when pen hits paper, stylus hits thinkpad, blood meets sweat of your brow, etc.

2. What you did is called REGISTERING your copyright. The only thing this does is enable you to sue for DAMAGES (not infringement...you can sue for that without registering) if someone infringes.

What this means is that if some witfree Snark wannabe takes Miss Snark's pearls of wisdom and creates his/her own blog and posts the stolen pearls as his/her own, Miss Snark can indeed come roaring down like the proverbial Kansas house and crush that striped stocking wannabe and make her delete the posts. What I can't do is collect damages because Miss Snark's blog is not registered with the copyright office.

Now, let's all agree that Miss Snark is a savvy beast, and avariciious as the next Kansas farmgirl in the big city, so if it was a good idea to register copyright, don't you think Miss Snark would have done it? exactly.

What you can do however is just not advertise your lapse to the world by NOT putting (c) 1986 on your manuscript. Just don't mention it at all. The chances that the title will change, and the content will change when you sell this masterpiece are pretty good so you'll end up registering the new version anyway. And...it's the publisher that registers the copyright, not the author.

You've made a novice error but you can recover. You'll make more. We all do.


CEP said...

Darling Miss Snark said:
"What you did is called REGISTERING your copyright. The only thing this does is enable you to sue for DAMAGES (not infringement...you can sue for that without registering) if someone infringes."
I'm afraid not. In the US, any copyright lawsuit requires registration. I think Miss Snark was mixing in the difference between infringement prior to registration and infringement after registration, which itself is not nearly as simple as it sounds.

But, aside from this mistake (which I've seen more than a few lawyers make), I must say that the fabulous Miss Snark's advice is spot-on. Back when I worked on the dark side of the editorial desk, we had a list of Marks of the Amateur—and a registration marking on a manuscript was pretty high on that list.

Mark said...

I registered mine only for that very reason even though nothing came of it as a case. Had it, I was prepared to file. However I've never stamped it on the maunscript. I don't mention it.

Cynthia Bronco said...

I registered mine because my Dad wanted me to, and he doesn't ask for much. I like to make him happy when I can. I hope the agents I'm querying aren't put off by the copyright and the fact that it will have to be recopyrighted once all the edits take place before publication.

Janny said...

More and more publishers are falling back on the stance of "your work is copyrighted the moment it's created, anyway" and NOT registering copyright. Merely putting "Copyright 2006" on the copyright page of the book does not constitute that, and many authors are finding out (with an appropriate sinking feeling) that, in fact, their publisher never has registered any of their works...which means that they could get a nasty surprise sometime should they need to invoke copyright law.

Word to the wise, I guess.


Madison Reece said...

Thanks for the post. We had this very question on my writers group this week and I told them to hop over here and read what you had to say!

Miss Snark said...

Registering a copyright is a standard part of the publishing contract.

It can also be verified online, pretty easily by logging on to the Copyright office website.

BitchySmurf said...

Most large publishing houses will still register the copyright for you. That is, in fact, my job. So by doing it yourself you've screwed yourself out of the fee, basically.

I'm surprised people go to all the trouble to do this. What happened to printing the puppy out and mailing it to oneself?

The only thing you need the actual registration form for is if you want to go into legal proceedings.

And, yes, you can probably just forget about it. Publishers often re-register revised editions of works so long as 15% of the work has been altered in some way.

Anonymous said...

Small presses (being a hinky world unto themselves) sometimes require the author to register copyright. Check your contract. Repeat: check your contract. Whatever it says, that do.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know how an author registers a work with the Copyright Office when the work has not been published. All the registration forms I've ever seen ask for the date of publication, the publisher, and the place of publication. It's very simple to get all this straight. Go to www.loc.gov and click on Copyright Office and read the FAQs.