PDA

View Full Version : Register an ebook with the copyright office?



Sherrie Cronin
06-12-2012, 07:31 AM
I have just sent my second $35 fee off into the abyss for a registration claim using the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) System. Does any one here have an informed opinion about whether I am being prudent or am just wasting money?
With the first book I got a trickle of junk mail regarding self-publishing services and a certain amount of comfort knowing that I could better claim my book as my own in court. That was good because the first time around I was very nervous.

This time around I'm thinking -- really now, who is going to steal my novel? I can barely give it away.

Any thoughts or relevant experiences out there would be greatly appreciated!

mscelina
06-12-2012, 07:56 AM
Here's the deal: registering your book with the Copyright Office isn't a waste of money per se. However, since the US is now a signatory nation of the Berne Convention (international intellectual property convention), which recognizes the moment of creation as the origin of copyright, registering that copyright isn't technically necessary in order to publish. After all, you have all the time-stamped information you need in your computer to determine the time and date down to the second as to when a file was created, backed up, changed, and saved. And while the copyright registration is still the piece de la resistance in a court case, it's no longer a requirement for proving ownership of a creative property.

So in the end, you have to ask yourself--is that extra piece of mind worth 35 bucks? That's an answer no one else can give you.

That being said, I have never registered the copyright for one of my books with the US Copyright Office.

Wesley Kang
06-12-2012, 09:04 AM
I have wondered about this too. I had read what mscelina just posted that the copyright belongs to you at the moment of creation, but thank you for the definitive clarification. Very helpful.

Thank you both to the asker and the answerer. :)

I obsessively send myself email attachments of my book in various stages of development. :P

merrihiatt
06-12-2012, 09:32 AM
I've registered six of my books, but not the others. If I had more money, I'd register them all, just to make it official. I do send daily updates to two e-mail addresses and save them, as well as create two back-up copies (one on a thumb drive and one on a CD). I once lost a ten-page document in a freak lightning storm. Never again.

brianjanuary
06-12-2012, 05:46 PM
There's nothing wrong with registering a copyright, but it's for the most part unnecessary unless you're a well-known or reasonably well-know author (or a screenwriter). Any creative work is copyrighted at the moment of creation, but the problem is, you can't copyright a title, and it's pretty difficuly to copyright an idea per se (unless it's a brand name like "Star Wars")--and, do you have the extra dollars to hire an expensive lawyer and the time to spend in court trying to prove a case you might not win?

Yes, without registration a court case becomes less easy to prosecute, but, again, if you're not well-known, then odds are no one will steal your work, anyway.

Katie Elle
06-12-2012, 05:46 PM
Waste of money. Chances of someone openly commercially plagiarizing your work are minimal at best and the only additional protection filing gets you is statutory damages.

The vast majority of stealing intellectual property today is individuals engaging in piracy via torrents etc. and this won't really help you.

Lots of people will tell you it's a good idea. But instead of asking if it's a good idea, ask if anyone has successfully utilized the copyright to collect damages or stop an infringer or if anyone has been unable to do so because the copyright was not registered.

Sherrie Cronin
06-13-2012, 05:32 AM
[QUOTE=mscelina;7348035]So in the end, you have to ask yourself--is that extra piece of mind worth 35 bucks? That's an answer no one else can give you.

Thanks! I very seriously doubt that I ever end up in court having to prove this is my book, but you are so right that I have years worth of electronic files, not to mention partial copies sent to family and friends over the course of the year when it finally all came together. I would think that most writers today do. This sounds like a system that was evolved when projects were started longhand without time stamps on everything....
Anyway I appreciate this, and will save myself the $35 point forward!

Sherrie Cronin
06-13-2012, 05:36 AM
I obsessively send myself email attachments of my book in various stages of development. :P

Oh my. So do I. Obsessively. And then one day I was looking for my daughters passport number that I knew I had emailed to myself, and I did a search in my Yahoo mailbox for "passport" and got back every time I used the word in every single copy of my book that I emailed myself and it was scary.......

But the good news is that we'd both have no trouble proving we are the true authors of our work, right?

Fins Left
06-13-2012, 11:30 AM
There is an attorney who attempted to build a business as a copyright troll. He'd sign up periodicals, then when their material was quoted on blogs, ONLY THEN did he do a fast track copyright registration as the basis for a "law suit". So, you can always register in the future if you feel that you have a significant claim worth pursuing in the courts.

The copyright troll has since been counter sued and drummed out of the courts for using them as an extortion racket. All of his intellectual property was put up for auction to settle claims. And he's now practicing law for some firm who apparently has no standards.

But, apparently registration is not a now-or-never option. I think the reason that trade publishers provide the registration is so that there is no confusion over who the copyright holder is when a piece is first published.

Todd Young
06-13-2012, 11:45 AM
I don't think it's necessary. If your book is pirated by someone, Amazon is pretty quick to jump on it and remove the title once you point it out to them.

Wesley Kang
06-13-2012, 10:42 PM
Oh my. So do I. Obsessively. And then one day I was looking for my daughters passport number that I knew I had emailed to myself, and I did a search in my Yahoo mailbox for "passport" and got back every time I used the word in every single copy of my book that I emailed myself and it was scary.......

But the good news is that we'd both have no trouble proving we are the true authors of our work, right?

Haha that's hilarious. I pretty much can never search the "My Documents" folder for anything without having 25 copies of my book in various forms show up. 86,000 words apparently covers a lot of territory. :P

Scott Seldon
06-20-2012, 04:17 AM
US copyright falls into two categories. Everything is copyright by the creator the moment of creation. With writing, that is the moment the writing exists on paper or in electronic form (aka, the moment your pen or pencil puts down the words or the moment you type the digital bytes into the computer). There is the concept of the poor-man's copyright where you stick your manuscript in an envelope and mail it to yourself. I have heard that doesn't really work. A safer bet is to get some trusted beta readers and post portions of your book in online critique sites, somewhere that you don't control the system data/time where the courts can subpena the file and the creation date.

What you get from the unregistered copyright is the ability to sue to prevent or stop copyright violations or plagiarism. You can sue for lost income. You cannot sue for damages.

Registering your written work gives you the right to sue for damages (which is where the money is if you find you need to protect your work) and get reimbursed for attorney fees, makes proving your authorship easier, and is required by some before they will comply with a DMCA takedown notice (you can always take them to court, but on your dime). So it is not a useless action to register your copyright. There are substantial benefits. Some of the benefits only apply if you register your copyright within 5 years.

You should visit www.copyright.gov and read over the FAQs and make your own decision. If you have made more than the $35 registration fee from selling your book, I would recommend investing that in registering your copyright. Should you need them, the benefits are invaluable.

Katie Elle
06-20-2012, 05:32 AM
Should you need them, the benefits are invaluable.

Invaluable, yet as far as I can tell entirely theoretical. I've yet to hear from anyone who ever utilized their registration.

Sherrie Cronin
06-20-2012, 06:28 AM
You should visit www.copyright.gov (http://www.copyright.gov) and read over the FAQs and make your own decision. If you have made more than the $35 registration fee from selling your book, I would recommend investing that in registering your copyright. Should you need them, the benefits are invaluable.

Thanks Scott -- it was good to hear the other side of the issue. I do have trouble imagining someone taking an entire novel and claiming to have written it themselves. It is possible, I suppose, in which case being able to recover damages and court costs would definitely matter.
I think that most writers are more concerned that their more clever ideas might get stolen and rewritten in slightly different form. We do all borrow bits of things we read, sometimes unknowingly, because our brains do not exist in a vacuum. However, at some point a line is crossed that should not be and I suspect that sort of theft is much harder to prove. I am curious, is the registration process is used in this sort of case also?

mscelina
06-20-2012, 06:34 AM
Well, you can't copyright an idea. There's nothing that would prevent someone from writing a story about an orphaned boy wizard who finds friendship and love at a wizarding school run by a kindly--but powerful--old man. Copyright is intended to protect specifics--your words, your characters, your actual text--from theft. If you're hoping to make sure no one can copy your idea, then you've got an unrealistic expectation.

Sherrie Cronin
06-20-2012, 06:58 AM
Well, you can't copyright an idea. There's nothing that would prevent someone from writing a story about an orphaned boy wizard who finds friendship and love at a wizarding school run by a kindly--but powerful--old man. Copyright is intended to protect specifics--your words, your characters, your actual text--from theft. If you're hoping to make sure no one can copy your idea, then you've got an unrealistic expectation.

Fair enough and I would not want to live or write in a world where ideas were copyrightable. I'd would be even tougher to be new writer!
But you did get to the crux of my question and I thank you. Given that one can copyright exact words, or at least a certain number of exact words I presume, does anyone know at what point a character or developed plot is protected? Can the orphaned boy be named Harry Porter? If every year at his school brings a new defense against the dark arts teacher -- has a line been crossed?

Please understand that this is just intellectual curiosity (I do not expect to steal or be stolen from), but because the issue of copyright came up it did make me curious about where the line is.

Scott Seldon
06-20-2012, 10:19 AM
I would have to find the specific reference, but there have been cases where entire books have been copied with just the character names and author name changed. I seem to remember two distinct ones within the past year.

Captcha
06-20-2012, 03:18 PM
Does anyone know how jurisdictions would be applied on this? If an author chooses to register copyright, should they do it in their country of residence or in the country of publication? If a book is self-published through Amazon, is the country of publication the US, or the home country of the author?

Does anyone know whether the benefits of registering copyright in the US are paralleled in other countries?

etc. (I'm Canadian, but would be interested in information from any country, especially Commonwealth).

Scott Seldon
06-20-2012, 06:44 PM
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr00003.html) has this to say:

Although copyright in a work exists automatically when an original work is created, a certificate of registration is evidence that your creation is protected by copyright and that you, the person registered, are the owner. It can be used in court as evidence of ownership.
So, like the US, you do not need to file to have your copyright. Unlike the US, there are no limitations if you do not register. But this statement really hits the core of why you should register no matter where you live, ease of proving you are the rightful copyright holder. It is a quick and easy way to prove it's yours, for take-down notices or court proceedings.

Captcha
06-21-2012, 12:19 AM
But would the fact that I have Canadian copyright protection do me any good if the book was published in the US and plagiarized by someone in Romania?

Scott Seldon
06-21-2012, 01:09 AM
The US has to honor other countries copyrights. The US Courts just ruled that some copyrighted works that had expired under the old US laws, but were originally copyrighted in the UK, had to be removed from public domain as the UK copyright still held.

Captcha
06-21-2012, 01:15 AM
But in terms of the benefits of registration...

For me, it's not hard to think of ways to prove that I wrote my books. Versions posted to online critique groups, copies of various drafts, etc. So unless there's an extra benefit to registration, I don't see the need.

It sounds like there is an extra benefit, however remote, to registering in the US. But are non-Americans even eligible to register in the US?

So far, I haven't registered anything. And I don't THINK I'm going to start. I'm mostly just wondering from curiosity.

benbradley
06-21-2012, 01:32 AM
Fair enough and I would not want to live or write in a world where ideas were copyrightable. I'd would be even tougher to be new writer!
But you did get to the crux of my question and I thank you. Given that one can copyright exact words, or at least a certain number of exact words I presume, does anyone know at what point a character or developed plot is protected? Can the orphaned boy be named Harry Porter? If every year at his school brings a new defense against the dark arts teacher -- has a line been crossed?

Please understand that this is just intellectual curiosity (I do not expect to steal or be stolen from), but because the issue of copyright came up it did make me curious about where the line is.
Ideas are generally not copyrightable or otherwise protectable. Titles and character names are too short to cover under copyright, but copyright isn't the only type of intellectual property protection.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Raiders of The Lost Ark, all those big blockbuster movie titles are protected under trademark, a short one or few-word phrase that others can't use without permission. The title and names such as "Han Solo" and "Chewbacca" are registered, and are effectively brand names - no one else can use those names for their own characters, whether it's in their own novel or for action figures.

When a movie or book gets popular (or if the movie has a large budget and they market it enough to make it popular, as in sequels and such), the title and major characters' names are surely protected by trademark and you can't publish a story using them. If it's a movie most people have never heard of, chances are the title and MC's are NOT protected by trademark, but then no one would want to use them in their book anyway.

Trademarks in the USA are handled by the Patent and Trademark Office:
http://www.uspto.gov/

But would the fact that I have Canadian copyright protection do me any good if the book was published in the US and plagiarized by someone in Romania?
This would be covered in the Berne Convention:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berne_Convention_for_the_Protection_of_Literary_an d_Artistic_Works
The USA and Canada are members, and from this list so is Romania:
http://www.wipo.int/members/en/
But also, international copyright is like domestic copyright in that it doesn't make infringers stop, it only gives you the right to sue an infringer. You still have to hire a lawyer who writes a nastygram to tell them to stop, and if/when they don't the lawyer then takes the case to court, and if it's international, that adds to the expense. It may not be worth it unless your book is selling well, AND the infringer has money and can be easily chased down.

Sherrie Cronin
06-21-2012, 07:51 AM
Thanks Scott Seldon and Ben Bradley for a wealth of info. Ben --I don't expect to be getting to the point of trademarking names any time soon, but that is another interesting angle to be informed about. Scott-- if you do come across that reference to the two books with characters names changed I would be curious to read about it. Were they well known books or fairly obscure ones? Either way you have got to wonder what the person who tried to get away with that was thinking...

Katie Elle
06-22-2012, 05:59 AM
I've heard of lots of people grabbing random stuff off the web and republishing it or stealing stories and publishing them with a new title, but these folks are cockroaches, the minute Amazon finds them they don't fight, which is what you would need a registered copyright for, they disappear into the net and come back under a new name.

That's really the thing. For a registered copyright to actually be useful, you would have to have a pirate you could identify who was going to stand up in court and claim they actually wrote the thing.

I've just never heard of that happening.

FabricatedParadise
06-22-2012, 06:02 AM
I obsessively send myself email attachments of my book in various stages of development. :P

I do this, but mostly because I'm a serial computer killer.