Saturday, September 24, 2005

Copyrights: What (I think) You Need To Know

So today I am at last posting about copyrights. Here's the thing: Copyrights law can be quite convoluted, copyright disputes can be quite lengthy, and theft of an improperly copyrighted work can fuck you, the writer, royally. Copyright-related issues are very complicated. But registering for copyright and therefore protecting your work as a writer is so ridiculously simple you shouldn't even have to think about doing it.

I think as writers we all know how important it is to register for copyright of our work. Granted, most copyright law states that the instant you as a writer create an original work that it is yours, we also know--sadly, many of us from experience--that this is not enough protection for a work we create.

A lot of you out there probably believe that the "poor man's copyright" is as good as registering for copyright. Well, it isn't. You can't smugly walk into a courtroom holding your sealed enveloppe marked "Exhibit A", hand it to the judge and walk out with a million dollar settlement. In fact, you might even get laughed out of court doing that. In my opinion the best protection is a combination of copyright registration, and getting a "poor man's copyright".

Oh, for those who don't know, a "poor man's copyright" is putting a copy of your work in a sealed enveloppe and mailing it registered letter to yourself.

Obviously as a Canadian writer I can only speak about Canadian copyright law. Recently the Copyright Act was changed in Canada to "simplify" the process. Basically when registering for copyright, you no longer have to give a short description of your work. I find this is actually detrimental, because it reduces copyright to essentially trademark registration. All the government has a record of is that you, the author, have copyrighted a work by a certain name. In a legal dispute, believe it or not, this might actually NOT be enough to cover your ass.

My reccomendation is that when you register for copyright, you also mail by registered mail a copy of your work to yourself, including any notes, drafts, and media (Discs CDR CDRW) you used in the process. If you have the "quirk" of writing your first draft by longhand, even better. You mail the longhand first draft along with notes, media, etc. at the same time you register for copyright. It's not necessarily 100% bullet-proof (Where there's enough money there's a lawyer who can fuck you), but it is the best protection you can afford yourself.

Now, when you recieve your copyright registration certificate and your sealed enveloppe, the best thing you can do is put them in a bank safe deposit box. Rent is cheap--or, at least inexpensive--on safe deposit boxes, and it protects your work against fire, flood, or loss.

If you don't want to get a safe deposit box, or if you can't justify the cost of one, then keep it in a home safe, metal lock box (preferably fireproof) or large plastic container somewhere cool, dry and dark.

I've provided a link to the Canadian Intellectual Propery Office, the US Copyright Office and the UK Patent Office and I've just added the Australian Copyright Council. If anyone needs copyright info for another country, please contact me and I'll add the appropriate link.

The reason I mention these links, is because any additional information you need is probably going to be best coming from the Horse's Mouth, as it were. What I've told you is the basics, which is pretty much all you need when applying for copyright. If you're anal retentive you'll probably contact your copyright office to find out the nitty gritty anyway.

Obviously, if you are lucky enough to sell something either to a publisher or a magazine, you will be required to sign over certain rights to the publishing party. At this stage of the game, before you sign anything you will want to talk either to a lawyer or a literary agent (If you can actually get one on the fucking phone).

If you self-publish or publish online, you retain 100% of the copyright, but you also become 100% responsible for watching out for the interests of your work. We'll look at some of the issues involved later on.


Anonymous said...

Hello Seek, TellerOfJade again. Just one question... when you publish something online, how does that affect copyright? It's obviously still possible to print things and send them to yourselves, but do you need to take any other measures with the patent office or add anything to the online copy stating it is copyrighted?

Steve Karmazenuk said...

Hi, ToJ!

Copyright is yours, no matter what. A legitimate hosting site like will allow you to specify what rights you're giving away along with publication (IE, Commercial rights, reproduction, etc). What's especially good is that they actually make the copyright part of your personal web space there, letting people know what they can and can't do with the work, and who to contact (namely, you) in order to acquire subsidiary rights.

It's all stuff technically you have to specify for yourself, especially when self or online publishing.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thanks for the quick reply. That cleared that up for me.

WTL said...

Perhaps an article regarding online copyright protection is in order?

Steve Karmazenuk said...

Perhaps it is.

I have the general impression that there will be a follow-up article to this one in the near future.