Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Alert: copyright registration for the unwary

Recently a querier carefully noted the following above the title of his enclosed pages:

Registered with the IP Rights Office
Copyright Registration Service
Ref: (string of numbers, no letters)

I'm befuddled by many things these days but copyright registration isn't one of them.  I've spent more than my fair share of time hanging out at the copyright registration website and I know what a registration number looks like.

It doesn't look anything at all like what this guy had written.

So I googled.

And sure enough, there's a company that will "register your copyright."

And gosh, there's only a "small administrative charge" to do this.

15 years for $125! Wow.

And if you don't know much about how publishing or copyright works, you might sign up.

Here's the problem:

This isn't the copyright office attached to the Library of Congress and the number they give you is useless for tracking copyright. Copyright registration numbers for books start with the letters TX.
(For text)

The copyright office registration number is THE ONLY ONE you need.

And guess what.  It's a whole lot less expensive.

Que'lle fucking surprise.

This is a very carefully constructed website that makes money by capitalizing on people's lack of knowledge about how copyright works.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again now: that is a morally bankrupt way to make money.

You do not need to register your copyright for querying a novel.

If for some reason you decide you do, there's one place to register copyright: US Copyright Office. And you'll notice the fee is $35 for the life of the copyright.

I should have known that Victoria Strauss and Writer's Beware were on top of this as long ago as 2007.


Dave said...

Just to clarify - Your work is copyrighted as soon as you create it. Registration is not necessary. (See copyright.gov for more info.)

Here's an excerpt from their FAQ page --

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

Unknown said...

BASTARDS!! Low-life, slimy, fucking bastards! Can't they be arrested? Dragged through town behind a pick-up?

Seriously, how do they get away with this?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Quick quiz –

P.T. Barnum said a WHAT is born every minute?

Fill in the blanks – A WHAT and his WHAT are soon parted.

Does not justify the theft, but you'd think people would do a modicum of research before shelling out $125!

Janet Reid said...

Dave, all that is very true, and thanks for the elaboration.

The most useful reason to register however is this: you need the TX copyright number for film deals.

I've never needed that registration for anything else. (knock wood!)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Trademarks are just as bad. For my company, rarely a week goes by that I don't get an "offer" to have someone watchdog and protect my intellectual property.

And for those premature copyrighters. Only what you sub to the copyright office is covered in your registration. All edits, revisions, rewrites, and changes are considered derivative and not covered under the registration (but fall under the common law copyright.)

So, just, don't. If you are going true 100% indie, wait until you have the book in final form before you register. If you are going trad, odds are the publisher will handle it.

And final tip of the day, something that I won my case on after 7 long years in court. If you are reprinting something old, for example your grandfather's westerns, that were originally in print before 1964, go see a lawyer, because you are probably going to screw it up.

Lance said...

Jumping in the water with the Shark with no better preparation than that writer had makes me shudder.

Unknown said...

You'll need to register your copyright if you wish to file a lawsuit against an infringer. In order to have the court award attorneys' fees, the registration must be filed within 90 days from the start of the infringement. So, if someone turns your novel into a Broadway production, and you don’t find out until six months later, you can still register and sue, but you’ll unlikely recover attorneys’ fees from the infringer.

Anonymous said...

I've always heard/read you don't need to get a copyright...as long as you aren't floating your work out all over the internet (I don't mean self publishing - which I'm sure takes all that into consideration)

Elissa M said...

Thank you, Janet. Though I think most of your loyal followers probably already know better than the hapless querier, it never hurts to point out the pile of dog poo in someone's path. The more voices shouting "Don't do this!", the better.

Janet Reid said...

Donna, at the risk of sounding pedantic the way you've phrased that is one of the ways people get confused.

"You don't need to get a copyright" is the problem.

What you mean to say is "you don't need to REGISTER your copyright"

You have copyright protection-- as the other commenters have pointed out --from the moment your work is in tangible form.

You don't need to REGISTER your copyright until your book is published in final form is exactly correct and I think what you meant to say.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Their FAQ page is some very interesting reading indeed. They, in fact, guard the copyright an "distribution" of the CRS seal quite vehemently, threatening legal action if it is displayed without your reference number. Which is interesting, because I suppose by registering your work, you're in fact paying them a royalty to use that seal?

I don't know. I've kind of chewed on this all day, and as I am not a lawyer and don't know a whole lot about copyright, it's interesting to me that such "services" can exist. I know that goverments tend not to like it when they are fraudulently represented, and in a way, that's exactly what's happening here. They claim to be protecting peoples' intellectual property, under the umbrella of the Berne Convention of 2006 (which I confess, I had not previously heard of, and as a result can also not hold forth on).

Do I think the Copyright Police are going to storm their digital warehouse and break up their HOUSE OF LIES? No, but it gives me a great mental image, influenced by pictures I've seen of the Prohibition era, combined with the movie Equilibrium.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Unknown - copyright litigation is a world more complicated than that. You do not need to file a registration in order to institute infringement litigation for injunctions and recovery of lost profits.

However, registered copyrights do enjoy certain legal protections. One is statutory damages and the other is the chance at legal fees (it is not automatic.)

Your copyright cert is prima facie evidence of your copyright. Otherwise, you have to provide parol and collateral evidence.

However, and this is the big stress. When you start flashing the circle-c sign, you are sending a big message that your darlings are golden and not to be touched, edited, revised, or otherwise altered. Fixing the copyright for a derivative work is non-trivial. If I was a publisher, I wouldn't bother. There are other books in the sea.

I helped a lawyer friend with an estate. Grandpa has written a book that enjoyed some success back in the 50s. The kids wanted to sell the copyrights. Instead of going to a lawyer, they had read the FAQ page of the copyright site and filed what they thought was right.

I had to break the news that they had blown it and put grandpa's book into the public domain. They could still sell the reprint rights, but the value was quite diminished. Now, the reprints are probably looking at 10-20 copies a month. But, if say, Tom Selleck decided he wanted it to be his next movie, the family could not stop him from using a 50s edition of the book. They blew it by doing it themselves.