Copyright Confusion

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Geist

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Should I register my novel's copyright before sending it out to an agent? I know it's unprofessional to indicate the work is copyrighted, and I know the publisher is supposed to register the copyright in the writer's name, but how would I prove I was the one who wrote it, if I didn't register it first?

I've registered other works, but I did so as a publisher. I don't remember if one can register a copyright before a work is published. Or if I remember correctly, one can, but when it's published, two copies have to be sent to the Library of Congress.

Can anyone illuminate me on this?

Thanks,

Ed
 

JoNightshade

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First of all, ask yourself this question: Who the heck would ever want to steal your work? It's hard enough to get published as it is, so who is going to profit by stealing your novel and trying to pass it off as their own? If I was going to do something illegal to try and make money, stealing someone else's unpublished manuscript would not be it.

Secondly, if you're honestly worried about this, here's what you do: Take the first, middle, and last page of your novel and put it in an envelope. Or a synopsis or whatever. Stamp it and mail it to yourself. Don't open it. Put it away in your files somewhere. You ever need proof something is yours, you can pull out this stamped and dated envelope that contains your work. That should be enough proof in court.
 

Sean D. Schaffer

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Should I register my novel's copyright before sending it out to an agent? I know it's unprofessional to indicate the work is copyrighted, and I know the publisher is supposed to register the copyright in the writer's name, but how would I prove I was the one who wrote it, if I didn't register it first?

I've registered other works, but I did so as a publisher. I don't remember if one can register a copyright before a work is published. Or if I remember correctly, one can, but when it's published, two copies have to be sent to the Library of Congress.

Can anyone illuminate me on this?

Thanks,

Ed



If you were a publisher then you most certainly would know that a writer should not register their work before sending it out.

There are several reasons for this:
  • Registering the work in the author's name is the publisher's job, not the author's job ... generally.
  • If a work is registered before the publisher gets a hold of it, the publisher has to go through lots of red tape to get the registration modified so it reads the date of publication instead of the original date of registration -- the said dates can be several years' difference.
  • If an author registers before sending it out, I can name several vanity houses (because I've made this mistake myself in the past) that will send you advertisements for their companies, many of which will say the publishing industry is virtually impossible to get into, you have to spend more money with bigger houses, yadda yadda yadda. It's really a headache a professional writer should not have to deal with.
  • On the same note as the first and second reasons I listed, Geist, for the author to register the work before submitting to publishing houses or agencies is redundant, because the publishing house that eventually gets your work will simply have to re-register your copyright anyway.
  • Finally, legitimate houses and agencies will generally not, contrary to some new authors' fears, steal the work if it's not registered in the first place. They know that to steal a manuscript will ruin their good reputation. In this business, if a company shafts its authors, the company will most likely suffer a major blow to its reputation. If their reputation suffers, their business will suffer as well.
 
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rugcat

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Should I register my novel's copyright before sending it out to an agent?
There have been previous threads addressing this issue. I know you're not one to blindly accept the opinions of others, simply because they have years of experience in the industry, but in this case, the consensus is this:

It's totally, utterly, absolutely, completely unnecessary.
 

Geist

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First of all, ask yourself this question: Who the heck would ever want to steal your work? It's hard enough to get published as it is, so who is going to profit by stealing your novel and trying to pass it off as their own?

Answer: All the people who gave us reason to pass copyright laws. Oh, and of course that rather large percentage of corporations who will gladly fu.. a poor person because they know he doesn't have the money or time off work to fight it in court. Call it paranoia.


If I was going to do something illegal to try and make money, stealing someone else's unpublished manuscript would not be it.

Yeah, but that's you. I don't think you would, either.


Secondly, if you're honestly worried about this, here's what you do: Take the first, middle, and last page of your novel and put it in an envelope. Or a synopsis or whatever. Stamp it and mail it to yourself. Don't open it. Put it away in your files somewhere. You ever need proof something is yours, you can pull out this stamped and dated envelope that contains your work. That should be enough proof in court.

Actually, that's not too bad of an idea. But then something makes me wonder why a publisher would care if I registered the copyright. It's going to be registered in my name, anyway. Except of course the date. They may not want to register it until the last possible date so the book is as new as possible. That makes sense, I suppose.
 

Geist

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There have been previous threads addressing this issue. I know you're not one to blindly accept the opinions of others, simply because they have years of experience in the industry, but in this case, the consensus is this:

It's totally, utterly, absolutely, completely unnecessary.

Oh sure. Just because you're a min-pin!
 

Dawno

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This is a good link for your answer. Here's the basic thing to note: [SIZE=-1]"By law, you have [copyright] the moment your work is fixed in tangible form."

I also believe that a search of the forums would have found you a number of answers to the question. Please, folks, use the search function![/SIZE]

Also, note - it debunks the idea of the "poor man's copyright" suggested above - sorry Jo.

...Secondly, if you're honestly worried about this, here's what you do: Take the first, middle, and last page of your novel and put it in an envelope. Or a synopsis or whatever. Stamp it and mail it to yourself. Don't open it. Put it away in your files somewhere. You ever need proof something is yours, you can pull out this stamped and dated envelope that contains your work. That should be enough proof in court.
 

Geist

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Actually, like I said to Joe. I think it's mostly a matter of the publication date. And it's true, there are other ways to prove the work was mine.

I just get paranoid because, and I can say this now, I was going to call my book Keepers of Eternity, and I mentioned this very early on on-line. I picked that title because it was nowhere on Amazon. Six months later this erotica rag comes out from a crap publisher with that very title. Now, titles can't be copyrighted, true, but the coincidence bothered me.

Not that it really matters of course, because I have about sixty titles this book could use. In fact, I'd rather not even title the thing and let the marketers at a publishing house suggest something. But I guess it would look bad to send a manuscript to an agent you didn't even try to title.

Thanks for the input Joe, and a quick "Heil" of the forepaw from my dachshund to the min-pin.
 

ChaosTitan

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This is a good link for your answer. Here's the basic thing to note: [SIZE=-1]"By law, you have [copyright] the moment your work is fixed in tangible form."[/SIZE]

[SIZE=-1]I also believe that a search of the forums would have found you a number of answers to the question. Please, folks, use the search function![/SIZE]

Also, note - it debunks the idea of the "poor man's copyright" suggested above - sorry Jo.


Dang, Dawno. You beat me to it. :D
 

JoNightshade

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Also, note - it debunks the idea of the "poor man's copyright" suggested above - sorry Jo.

Eh, whatever. Never did it myself. The whole thing is silly. If someone is paranoid enough to think they need copyright protection for their own work, mailing an envelope might make them feel better without wasting so much time and effort. ;)
 

Geist

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This is a good link for your answer. Here's the basic thing to note: [SIZE=-1]"By law, you have [copyright] the moment your work is fixed in tangible form."[/SIZE]

[SIZE=-1]I also believe that a search of the forums would have found you a number of answers to the question. Please, folks, use the search function![/SIZE]

Also, note - it debunks the idea of the "poor man's copyright" suggested above - sorry Jo.

They say that theft of a manuscript is functionally non-existent. Then why does anyone register?

The fact is, there is no way to prove I wrote a manuscript, especially if I send it as a word document. I will have to research this further.
 

Jamesaritchie

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They say that theft of a manuscript is functionally non-existent. Then why does anyone register?

The fact is, there is no way to prove I wrote a manuscript, especially if I send it as a word document. I will have to research this further.

No one does register until after the work is published. Registration is to avoid plagiarism of already published work, not theft of unpublished work.

Until and unless your work is published, it isn't worth stealing. And usually not even then. But before it's published, it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. There's no reason to steal it, and nothing anyone could do with it, even if they did steal it.
 

Geist

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Because paranoia runs rampant, and a lot of people don't do basic research (Google is your friend) before registering.

I don't get it? Why google? What does that have to do with copyright? And I freely admit I'm paranoid. State Farm screwed thousands down here where I live after Hurricane Katrina. Corporations steal all the time.

Now, here's my next question. If I do register before sending to agents, will that hurt my chances of being published? See, in my mind it shouldn't, because why would some publisher (the one small guys have copyright laws to protect them from in the first place) be so adamant about "NO PREVIOUS REGISTRATION"

So, we send in a new peice of paper to the Library of Congress. What would they care?
 

Geist

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No one does register until after the work is published. Registration is to avoid plagiarism of already published work, not theft of unpublished work.

Until and unless your work is published, it isn't worth stealing. And usually not even then. But before it's published, it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. There's no reason to steal it, and nothing anyone could do with it, even if they did steal it.

I hear you. But what's to stop someone from saying, "This is a great story. I'm going to say I never heard of Edward Gordon and get this thing published and call it my own."

Call me an idiot, fine, but you have to admit, lots of writers fee this way. King may not. A court's going to believe him if he says he was the original author.

Granted an unpublished work may well be worthless. It's like buying land you think might have gold on it. Actually, you've given a good reply now that I think about it. Who says my story is a seller? Who wants an ambulance chaser filing a lawsuit for the theft of it. They'd end up settling for more than they would have given for an advance.

What about this. What if a person saved all their edits and revisions. I have the original rough draft, but I've been throwing out the edits as I finished them. Fu.. I should hold onto them.

What do you think?

Ed
 

Roger J Carlson

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I don't get it? Why google? What does that have to do with copyright? And I freely admit I'm paranoid. State Farm screwed thousands down here where I live after Hurricane Katrina. Corporations steal all the time.

Now, here's my next question. If I do register before sending to agents, will that hurt my chances of being published? See, in my mind it shouldn't, because why would some publisher (the one small guys have copyright laws to protect them from in the first place) be so adamant about "NO PREVIOUS REGISTRATION"

So, we send in a new peice of paper to the Library of Congress. What would they care?
Possibly because publishers like to deal with professionals and copyrighting your work before publication writes NOOB on your forehead.
 
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Medievalist

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You don't get anything for registering the copyright except higher damages if the case goes to court.

But editors and publishers and agents don't steal works; they really don't.

They absolutely don't steal the works of unpublished writers.

As I said before, copyright is the least of your worries.

Read this.
 

Cath

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I hear you. But what's to stop someone from saying, "This is a great story. I'm going to say I never heard of Edward Gordon and get this thing published and call it my own."
Professionalism?

If you're targeting the right publishers and agents, it's a moot point. These people won't steal your work. They just won't.

By the way, this question has come up a few times before.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Should I register my novel's copyright before sending it out to an agent?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: The book probably won't sell anyway, so that's $45 you'll never see again.

Even longer answer: Copyright exists automatically from the moment the work is first fixed in tangible form. The records you make in the course of doing your everyday business, your printouts, your rough drafts, provide more than adequate proof of your original composition.

Longer answer still: Publishers routinely copyright works in their authors' names. Breaking that routine slows them down and costs them. When a new book comes out with a copyright date that's some years earlier (and face it, if you sold your work tomorrow it probably wouldn't hit the shelves for a couple of years) readers in bookstores looking at that date would figure that the book was old, or a reprint. Many would put it back in search of something new.

Go ahead, copyright your book if you have money to burn and can't get to sleep otherwise, but understand that you're wasting your time and money. There is no market for pirated slush. None at all.

Among agents there are two basic kinds: Honest and dishonest. Honest agents aren't going to pirate your work because they don't just want this book, they want your next, and your next, and your next.... Someone who can write a publishable manuscript is rare enough that they aren't going to throw him or her away for a one-shot advantage, and if a book is successful the odds that you wouldn't learn of it approach zero.

A dishonest agent isn't going to pirate the book either, because they couldn't sell a book, even a publishable one, if you held a gun to their head. How are they going to sell a pirated work? Their source of income lies in the fees they collect from writers. Plus, again, if the book has any kind of success, you're certain to find out, and their cheese will be in the slicer for sure then.

An honest publisher isn't going to buy a pirated manuscript because, not only they are honest, but they're going to want to work with the writer to improve the work. No one but the original author could possibly do that.

A dishonest publisher isn't going to "buy" a pirated work because their business depends on the author himself buying multiple copies of his own book to peddle at flea markets. Who's going to have so much ego invested in a manuscript they stole to pay thousands of dollars to pretend to be its author and go from bookstore to bookstore begging the managers to carry a copy?
 

job

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Now, here's my next question. If I do register before sending to agents, will that hurt my chances of being published?


Yes.

From an agent's point of view, there are two possible reasons you copyrighted the ms before sending it to her.

1) You're endearingly naive about how publishing works.

(Your query letter will say that you are a publisher, so this obviously does not apply.)


2) You think the agent is going to steal from you.

Why the devil would an agent take on a client who begins the relationship thinking the agent is a thief?
No amount of good writing is worth the hassle of dealing with somebody that paranoid and difficult.
 

Geist

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Short answer: No.

Longer answer: The book probably won't sell anyway, so that's $45 you'll never see again.

I don't know why you feel you have to say that. I'm not sure what your publishing success is, but the fact that I'm not sure what it is may in fact say something about it. Be that as it may, I don't know if my book will sell. What I do know, is that you certainly don't know whether or not my book will sell. Even if it never sells, you only guessed lucky, 50/50, not because you are aware of my potential in some greater measure than I am.

Now, if you just meant odds are it won't sell, then I take it all back.

Even longer answer: Copyright exists automatically from the moment the work is first fixed in tangible form. The records you make in the course of doing your everyday business, your printouts, your rough drafts, provide more than adequate proof of your original composition.

Longer answer still: Publishers routinely copyright works in their authors' names. Breaking that routine slows them down and costs them. When a new book comes out with a copyright date that's some years earlier (and face it, if you sold your work tomorrow it probably wouldn't hit the shelves for a couple of years) readers in bookstores looking at that date would figure that the book was old, or a reprint. Many would put it back in search of something new.

Go ahead, copyright your book if you have money to burn and can't get to sleep otherwise, but understand that you're wasting your time and money. There is no market for pirated slush. None at all.

Among agents there are two basic kinds: Honest and dishonest. Honest agents aren't going to pirate your work because they don't just want this book, they want your next, and your next, and your next.... Someone who can write a publishable manuscript is rare enough that they aren't going to throw him or her away for a one-shot advantage, and if a book is successful the odds that you wouldn't learn of it approach zero.

A dishonest agent isn't going to pirate the book either, because they couldn't sell a book, even a publishable one, if you held a gun to their head. How are they going to sell a pirated work? Their source of income lies in the fees they collect from writers. Plus, again, if the book has any kind of success, you're certain to find out, and their cheese will be in the slicer for sure then.

An honest publisher isn't going to buy a pirated manuscript because, not only they are honest, but they're going to want to work with the writer to improve the work. No one but the original author could possibly do that.

A dishonest publisher isn't going to "buy" a pirated work because their business depends on the author himself buying multiple copies of his own book to peddle at flea markets. Who's going to have so much ego invested in a manuscript they stole to pay thousands of dollars to pretend to be its author and go from bookstore to bookstore begging the managers to carry a copy?

Thank you. That is a very logical reply, and it makes sense to me, as well. It also confirms that I should probably hold on to my edits until the book is registered and published, just so I personally can sleep better.

Thank you for taking the time to explain things. Many have simply said "They won't steal." My life experience is that many people steal many things in many ways, and the only time they don't is when it doesn't profit them to do so. You have shown how that motivation is removed from this hypothetical scenario.

Again, Danke.

Ed
 
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Geist

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Yes.

From an agent's point of view, there are two possible reasons you copyrighted the ms before sending it to her.

1) You're endearingly naive about how publishing works.

(Your query letter will say that you are a publisher, so this obviously does not apply.)


2) You think the agent is going to steal from you.

Why the devil would an agent take on a client who begins the relationship thinking the agent is a thief?
No amount of good writing is worth the hassle of dealing with somebody that paranoid and difficult.

Why would my query letter say that I'm a publisher? I'm not a publisher.
 
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