Sunday, May 12, 2013


From time to time I receive queries from writers who list a copyright number for the book they want  me to represent.  I don't pay much attention other than to note that author doesn't know much about how publishing works.

[To complete a copyright registration, you need the name of the publisher, the year of publication, and two copies of the book to lodge with the Library of Congress.  At the query stage, you don't have any of that.]

Some writers think they should copyright their work to prevent plagiarism or theft, but copyright doesn't prevent that at all. Registering a copyright only means you can collect damages if someone does plagiarize your work.  I am in the business of selling, not stealing, and prefer to work with people who do NOT assume I think plagiarism is just another wealth accumulation strategy. Thus, copyright registration numbers on a query are a bit of a red flag if I notice at all.

And today, someone sent a query with a copyright number that isn't a copyright number.  I knew this instantly cause I've just finished registering copyright on five client books when the publisher didn't do it promptly.

I didn't respond to the query writer cause I've learned the hard way not to interact with writers other than through the Chum Bucket experiment, but I'm wondering is someone out there is scamming writers by saying they need to register copyright at the query stage, and offering "to help" a writer do it.

Registering copyright is $35 and about 20 minutes at the copyright office website (believe me, I know!) Anyone charging you money to save you time has an agenda going.

Let me know if you've seen anything like that out there, ok?


RayBear said...

Is it faster to do the online copyright filing versus the paper copyright filing?

Before I send in my manuscript I am making sure that I am knowledgeable about the publishing industry. There are so many resources out there (they're free at your local library).

Steve Masover said...

One doesn't actually need a publisher to register copyright. The copyright office permits registration of unpublished work (and requires only one copy of the typescript, assuming it's a book, in that case).

But Ms. Reid's larger point stands.

Janet Reid said...

ray, even finling online you need to print out the registration form and mail with the books.

Steve, true, you can. But honest to god, why?

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Doesn't it also protect you if someone else tries to pretend they wrote your book/song/script, and you get into a who-is-the-originator-of-this-work dispute? The copyright would prove a date, which would be earlier than anything the plagiarist could show, so no one else could claim credit for your work. Is this correct?

(Hmmmm, "finling" online ... something only sharks can do, right?)

Bonnie Shaljean said...

PS I don't mean I think an agent would try that - but isn't it a good idea to have some sort of prior protection if you're showing it to beta readers and for-hire editors (where we wouldn't necessarily know the honest ones from the predators). From this lowly end, one can't always tell who's who.

Ailsa said...

Bonnie, I would think that's where research helps - if I was going to hire someone to go over my manuscript before querying then personally I'd want to find some good feedback about them from others who'd used their services, and I'd definitely be looking at things like the Preditors & Editors sites online. If I had any doubts about someone, I wouldn't be sending them my work.

Don said...

Here's the bottom line: NOBODY IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR BOOK. If it's published and popular, piracy might become an issue, but plagiarism of unpublished work is rare enough that I doubt anyone could come up with an example (there are plenty of cases of plagiarism of published work, but that's a whole other can of beans).

Terri Lynn Coop said...

As a lawyer who just got out of 6 years of intellectual property litigation (yes, I won, but it was exhausting), here are a few points.

1. The copyright registration is not concrete proof of anything. It can be rebutted by diligent evidence. It just sets the line in the sand. I beat the other side over the head with their own certificates.

2. The registration is not magic. It allows you to seek statutory damages and legal fees rather than having to prove actual damages. Without a registration, you can still recoup lost profits from a pirate.

3. Copyright and plagiarism, while connected, are not the same thing.

4. It has been said over and over again, nobody is going to steal your book. As one editor said, "there are way better books to steal from than yours." If you truly think a beta reader is going to run off with your idea, you have all sorts of time-stamped files in your computer.

5. If you insist on filing a registration, it is flawed the minute you make the first edit to your golden words. It only covers the exact words you filed with. How many times will that draft change in the 6 - 12 months you are waiting for the copyright cert?

6. If you self-pub, then file the registration. Otherwise, wait until the publishing house does it. Any questions, talk to your agent, your editor, or a lawyer.


Ellipsis Flood said...

It's not just books where this happens. I've seen it in game development too. People refuse to talk about their plot and characters in fear that someone could steal it.

I can only point at what Don said and expand it to NOBODY IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR PLOT. Especially not if you proudly proclaim it to be your first.

Nancy Lee Badger said...

What do you do in the case of a self-pubbed book that you released, for example, May 1st and then the print book comes out with Createspace three months later. You have to send the print copy somewhere? I never heard the copyright required a print copy. I would want my copyright to show May 1st. Amazon would show that. The book has the year only.This makes the $35 pricetag a lot higher, too.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah...I would be flattered if someone liked my novel enough to want to claim it as their own,hell with the rejections I've gotten,and no requests for a full, I don't want to claim it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Don...and ellipsis... because, anyone who is writing/has written their own book, thinks theirs is better than yours anyway. Right??

Janet Reid said...

Nancy, I'm sorry, I'm not well-versed on the requirements for self-publishing or e-only publishing. My knowledge is limited to trade publishing.

Janet Reid said...

Terri, that was a great review and wrap up! Thank you!!!

Buzz Malone said...

I'm not copyrighting anything. I figure if someone steals my work and passes it off as their own, Janet might finally be tempted to read one of my manuscripts.

I mean, just because the entire industry has singled me out to suffer in obscurity doesn't mean my words should be doomed to the same fate.

In fact, to anyone willing to plagiarize a complete manuscript of mine, I offer the first two five star reviews (from me and mom).

Terri Lynn Coop said...

The ebook/print copy question intrigued me, so I went hunting. Generally, when you file online, you attach an electronic copy of the book.

Here are the acceptable file types:

You want to send it in the format you are publishing it, with the cover, end papers, etc., not just the text.

The wonderous Circular 7d on page 2 deals with the mandatory deposit with Library of Congress with respect to online-only ebooks.

However, for deposit at the Library of Congress, when there has been multiple editions (in this case print and ebook) you should send the "best edition." For more info on what constitutes the "best edition." check out handy dandy Circular 7b:

However, notice that the text must be the same. If you did significant edits (beyond very basic SPAG), it is a separate version and must be copyrighted separately. You have 3 months to supply the hard copies.

I love the Copyright circulars, if you have the question, they have the answer.

New stuff is easy. The law is clearcut. It gets stickier with assigning copyrights on older works. As in, grandpa wrote a book back in the 1940s that enjoyed some success and someone wants to buy the rights and put it back in print. Well, if grandpa or his heirs didn't do their work correctly, it may have fallen into the public domain. A lawyer friend asked me for a consult and that was exactly what had happened. The wrong form was filed back in the day and while the newly written forward was protected, the text was in the wind. I found a first edition of grandpa's book online. I could have purchased it, scanned it, and put it on a webpage and the family couldn't have stopped me.

That can't happen these days, so relax.


Kitty said...

Before anyone poo-poohs plagiarism, there are some famous writers who are guilty of just that.

Having said that, I wouldn't judge a writer too harshly for adding a copyright number to their manuscript when they contact an agent. I would sooner think the writer was naive and wouldn't take it as an insult.

While I'd trust a lit agent, I don't think I'd trust anyone else. Writer says HBO's 'Carnivale' copied his idea

Alex said...

Sounds like it works a little differently in Australia. If I write a short story on my laptop and that's as far as it goes, I own the copyright to it. I don't have to register it anywhere or with anyone. It's an automatic thing.