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Wednesday
Dec032014

How Can Copyright Protect Your Work?

We are very pleased to offer the second of a 2 part blog post from Barbara Ingrassia, Copyright Manager extraordinaire, for Our Little Books Guest Post Wednesday. The first part dealt with what you can do with other peoples' work and this second part is devoted to how you can protect your own work. Remember, knowledge is power!

In the previous post, I discussed how you can comply with copyright law as a consumer of 3rd party copyrighted works.  In this post, I’ll discuss how you as a CREATOR can protect your original creative work.

Imagine, you’ve put your time and energy into this new work. You’ve cleared the rights for 3rd party works, as appropriate, and provided attribution for quotations, ideas, etc. You CREATED a new work. Now, how do you protect your investment?

First of all, you have to understand that copyright does not protect ideas, but the expression of original, creative ideas. So, at the moment an original creative work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression (i.e., down on paper), it is protected by copyright (including print, audio, video, digital).

While it is not required that you include a copyright notice (© Year. Name. All Rights Reserved) in order to establish copyright, I highly recommend that you do. Place it on the title page, home page, at the end of a post, on the label, meaning in a conspicuous location. This is a very simple step, but very important. Why? It signals users that:

  1. the work is copyright-protected
  2. when it was copyrighted
  3. who is the copyright owner, and
  4. what rights are available to the user

Then there is no excuse for a user to claim that they didn’t know that the work was copyrighted. You might also include your contact information (typically email address) to make it easy for users to request permission to use the work.

Consider taking an additional step to increase the protection: register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Again, it’s not required, but there are advantages:

  1. Establishes a public record (searchable online)
  2. Allows the filing of an infringement suit
  3. Makes statutory damages and attorney’s fees available to the copyright owner, and
  4. Allows registration with the U.S. Customs Service to protect against the importation of unauthorized copies. 

It is not expensive to register and you can complete the forms online. There are very helpful tutorials and FAQs to help you complete the forms; in most cases you do not need an attorney to complete the submission process. To register a work go to: http://copyright.gov/ The date your file is complete will be the effective date of the copyright, if granted. Understand that the Copyright Office will not monitor use of your content; that is your responsibility. Search the Internet regularly for use of key, unique phrases from your work, as well as your name.

In the past, many authors have (sometimes unknowingly) transferred all of their rights to another party—usually a publisher. If you are working with a publisher, think about what uses you would like to make of your work, and negotiate to retain those rights. A signed license/transfer agreement trumps copyright law. In your excitement to be published, don’t simply sign the form presented to you. Today, thanks in part to the rise of self-publishing on the Internet, many authors are able to retain their copyrights. (Note from Our Little Books: we support our authors and never take their copyright. Listen to Barbara's advice...check your agreements before signing!)

One last point: when you are planning a joint project, create and sign a written agreement clarifying who will own the copyright. This is particularly important if volunteers, interns, contractors (illustrators, photographers, graphic artists, etc.), or employers may be involved. Don’t just assume that you will own the original creative work of others who contribute to the project. Yes, copyright in the digital age can seem complicated and murky, but you can learn to manage copyright so it doesn’t manage you.

Barbara Ingrassia is a Certified Copyright Manager who provides one-on-one consultations, workshops, and seminars on all issues copyright. To engage Barbara for an audit of your website for copyright issues or for more information about copyright, request the free 16 Page report 10 Biggest Copyright Mistakes Small Business Owners Make AND How to Avoid Them! by sending an email to barb@managecopyright.com with the subject line CREPORT. Manage copyright. Don’t let it manage You!℠

(Information provided here should not be construed as legal advice.)

The content of this post is © 2014 Barbara C. Ingrassia All Rights Reserved.

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