Writer’s Portfolio Class Blog

How to protect your writing

Posted by kscott on April 7, 2007

Ric has graciously offered to share some of the resources he has found regarding copyright and business-related issues that helps you protect your work and your rights as a writer. So be sure to take a look and share anything you might come across, as well.

Don’t forget that next week we will focus solely on web design issues, so bring everything you have (on disk).

5 Responses to “How to protect your writing”

  1.   Ric Says:

    Okay, about copyrights, it’s pretty simple. As soon as you create a work (and in this discussion we’ll limit ourselves to literary work, or things that are actually written down on paper or saved to a digital file) anyway, as soon as it’s written, it’s copyrighted. All you have to do is write it and it’s protected. However, although you do have rights under the assumption of copyright by creation, you will have a bitch of a time protecting your work from infringement unless you have your work registered. There are various ways to do that, but only one give you the right to defend your work in court. Formal copyright, with the U.S. government requires that you file a application with the copyright office. The forms are available to download at http://www.copyright.gov. Go to the section “Forms” and download the Form TX, for text work. The instructions are there also, but basically, you fill out the form, and send that in along with the fee and a copy of your work. Generally speaking, your work must be published, or pending publication for it to be recognized (although that’s not a hard and fast rule) and remember just the act of writing something gives it a copyright. What it does not do is provide a basis for defending against infringement. (And the definition of published is pretty long and complicated as in:

    “Publication” is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.

    NOTE: Before 1978, federal copyright was generally secured by the act of publication with notice of copyright, assuming compliance with all other relevant statutory conditions. U. S. works in the public domain on January 1, 1978, (for example, works published without satisfying all conditions for securing federal copyright under the Copyright Act of 1909) remain in the public domain under the 1976 Copyright Act.

    Certain foreign works originally published without notice had their copyrights restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA). Request Circular 38b and see the “Notice of Copyright”section of this publication for further information.

    Federal copyright could also be secured before 1978 by the act of registration in the case of certain unpublished works and works eligible for ad interim copyright. The 1976 Copyright Act automatically extends to full term (section 304 sets the term) copyright for all works, including those subject to ad interim copyright if ad interim registration has been made on or before June 30, 1978.

    A further discussion of the definition of “publication” can be found in the legislative history of the 1976 Copyright Act. The legislative reports define “to the public” as distribution to persons under no explicit or implicit restrictions with respect to disclosure of the contents. The reports state that the definition makes it clear that the sale of phonorecords constitutes publication of the underlying work, for example, the musical, dramatic, or literary work embodied in a phonorecord. The reports also state that it is clear that any form of dissemination in which the material object does not change hands, for example, performances or displays on television, is not a publication no matter how many people are exposed to the work. However, when copies or phonorecords are offered for sale or lease to a group of wholesalers, broadcasters, or motion picture theaters, publication does take place if the purpose is further distribution, public performance, or public display.)

    See what I mean?

    There are other way to register your work other than filing a copyright. For twenty bucks you can register your work with the writer’s guild; I’ve registerd several with the L.A. office. It’s not the same as a copyright, but it does provide a date for creation should you have to defend against infringement or unauthorized use of your work.
    But as far as that goes, you MUST be registered in order to sue to stop infringement or to recover damages.
    There are companies that will archive your work and provide a time stamp to prove original ownership, but that’s not a copyright. I think that these, as far as writer’s go, are pretty much a bunch of crap.

    So to sum up. When you write it, it’s copyrighted, but you cannot sue for damages or to stop infringement unless it’s registered and you can only do that by filing the copyright application. You can register with the writer’s guild or various online companies to provide proof of a date of creation, but that doesn’t give you the right to sue. And international rights are a whole different can of worms that I’m not even going to go into here. Any questions?


  2.   Ric Says:

    I wanted to add that blogs or other online creation are, generally speaking, not able to be copyrighted; if you put it out there it’s for public consumption and it’s publichally owned.

  3.   Teddie Goldenberg Says:

    Interesting, we just had a discussion about copyright in Mort Castle’s Story In Graphic Forms class.

    He pretty much described the same process: you write it, you own it. He also talked said that if you self-publish (for the purpose of our class, he was talking about comic books), you can include on the inside, an indicia, and even though you write it yourself, it is as official as it gets.

    Mort also talked about the fact that publishers, agents, and printers are usually very careful as to NOT infringe copyright – their reputation is on the line, after all. And in the unusual case that someone does actually steal your work, they’ll be doing you a huge favor – the publicity gained from the resulting lawsuit will immediately catapult your career.

    On another note, at one point a friend of mine wanted me to meet with a writer for her company (which developed “IP’s” for children’s edutainment- books, tv, etc.), but in order to do so, they had me sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement; since I wasn’t employed by them or soliciting employment, I had to sign this thing so to protect myself and them against either of us stealing ideas. In the case of IP’s, this is rather nebulous – in fact, from my friend’s description, some of the themes in the comic book series I was developing were similar to themes in the cartoon series that her company was developing. But how do you protect something as nebulous as an idea?

    The thing is, copyright just means that people can’t copy your work and claim it as your own. There’s no law saying that I can’t write, perform, and market a song about “anxiously awaiting the arrival of a drug dealer,” just because both the Pixies and the Velvet Underground have both already done so. I just can’t copy their bass lines (at least, not exactly).

    Supposedly, any movie script sent up for solicitation needs to have an NDA included, as the first page. Mostly, it’s to protect the studio in case they happen to make a movie about tornados, two or three years after they’ve rejected/ignored your solicited script for a movie about tornados. Without that NDA sitting on top, they probably won’t even look at it. But then again, this is just what I’ve heard.

    Ric – you went to LA and read some spec scripts; how keen were they on the whole NDA thing?

  4.   JGMarceau Says:

    Okay, I’m glad I checked this page for homework. I almost forgot to do a blog on last week’s Event.

    The Query Letter event was nice to attend but featured a person I thought had little to do with what we, as student writers, are trying to accomplish. A book factory that generates its own ideas they want others to write about is against everything I see as creative writing. What is creative about a corporation, “one of the 5 largest in America,” finding people to, in effect, ghost-write what they want? That is a publisher I will veer clear of in the future.

    Joanna, as usual, was her energetic and professional self and voiced her company’s stance as “writer’s advocates” quite well. The more the customer gets paid by a publisher and treated fairly by their agent, the more willing the writer is to stay with them. Simple, and yet a good motivation for serious literary agents to consider when considering a new writer to take under their wing. I wish there were more agencies like that, preferrably with my genre in mind. :)

    Overall, the session was informative but not entirely devoted to the writers that Columbia produces.

  5.   Chicagoric Says:

    As far as NDA; they will not touch anything without a signature. That goes for literary manuscripts as well. And the point about indicia is technically correct, but, as I stated before, you will not be able to sue for damages, in the unlikely event of infringement, unless you have a registered copyright. You can sue, but only for actual costs lost, which does not include your time and effort, so which is likely to be negligible.
    I mentioned before about registering your work with the writer’s guild, which is a simular idea to the indicia and also provides a time stamp, but it’s still not an officially registerd copyright. But they do have a lot to offer writers.. http://www.wga.org/


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