Like ISBN, copyright questions are common and the legalities of it can be complex. In most cases, copyright is something an author won’t need to spend much time worrying about. The tasks to copyright a book are straightforward, starting with simply writing a book. If you have any concerns, this fact alone should give some relief;
By writing your book, you own the copyright.
In 1886 The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was signed as an international agreement on copyright. Your creation is your intellectual property. Think of it like this: only you have the “right” to “copy” your work and sell it; nobody else has the right to copy your work and sell it.
Your book is automatically under copyright, extending from the time you write it. However, there is a stipulation of proof. You need to commit the work to a readable form perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Don’t just leave it on your computer or mail yourself a certified letter containing a copy of it. Perceptible means you’ve placed your book somewhere so it can potentially be viewed by others whether they view it or not (i.e. online or through an official registration service).
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Every retailer requires you to claim copyright as it protects them and you. That’s done with one simple check of the “I claim ownership” box during publishing.
Authors frequently ask about the dangers of copyright infringements or theft of their work. While infringements do exist, they are rare and usually do little or no damage. Many authors will find alleged copies of their ebooks for sale at disreputable websites. Fear not. Most book buyers never shop at those sites because they’re full of malware. Examples of that type of pirating happen all the time, but Google and other search engines are happy to combat it.
My advice when this happens is to do nothing and not worry about it. You might be thinking, Really? It’s true, all of my titles have ended up on these pirated sites yet I seriously doubt many, or any, sales have resulted. Those sites are not where loyal buyers shop. I’ll continue to do nothing and doubt it has hurt me as an author.
If you want to take a more active response, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was designed to battle common internet infringements. A DMCA takedown notice can be issued to a website by any author claiming copyright infringement. It’s a powerful tool that’s easy to use. Essentially you send the website manager or online service provider (OSP) a notice that your copyright has been violated on their website, and the OSP is required to remove or disable access to the material in order to avoid being held liable.
To issue a DMCA takedown notice, request the OSP to remove or block the violation and include the following information:
- your signature
- the work that has been violated
- the URLs or pages you want removed
- your contact info
The Register of Copyrights has published a directory of agents online to receive and respond to your DMCA takedown notice: http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/list/a_agents.html. You can also contact a lawyer for more serious claims.
During the months while you’re working on the book and sending it to others to read, announce your copyright with the symbol: ©. Place that near the beginning of the document, then include the year and your name along with “all rights reserved” or standard phrasing for your nation. The phrase of © 2017 Author Name All Rights Reserved can be added as a line to the beginning of your books and voila, you’re protected (actually you already were). You can include any other legal information following the copyright line.
Copyright pages often include text like: No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher and/or author.
There’s no rule for exact wording. Other books have examples of copyright text you can alter for your own. If you write fiction, text like this may be helpful: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright infringement can take forms beyond a pirate stealing a book and trying to pass it off as his own. For example, you may write a successful novel with a unique plot structure. Years later someone might publish a nearly identical book with different characters and setting but essentially the same story. In that case, you may be able to sue for copyright infringement and it will help if you have additional sources of protection.
Plenty of methods for protection exist. These are not mandatory but are wise to do and reasonably priced. You can visit the Library of Congress US Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov/) and follow the prompts to register a copyright. Below are divisions for other English-speaking nations.
UK Intellectual Property Office: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/intellectual-property-office
Canadian Intellectual Property Office: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/Home
Australian Copyright Counsel: http://www.copyright.org.au/
For more info, visit the directory at WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization): http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/urls.jsp.
Other Ways to Protect Your Work
If you have a blog, post some chapters and a book description. Introduce characters and the plot to your readers. That can be done even while you’re writing the book.
One obvious method to broadcast copyright is to publish the book. This gets into “common law” copyright protection. Imagine publishing with Amazon on May 9th of 2017. After that, if anyone tries to steal your book and sell it online, you could contact the retailer or site owner and prove the book is yours. If a future movie gets made based on your story without your consent or awareness, you’ll have proof.
Just remember rarely are authors harmed by copyright infringements. For the vast majority of writers, don’t worry much about it.
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