Copyright Issue Authors Need to Understand

Not long ago I wrote an article on copyright nuance, and I devoted a short section in a recent Newsletter to the issue, as it’s ultra important and very confusing.  First and foremost, since 1989 no work requires the copyright symbol © after its title to be legally considered the work of its author. For this reason, some “in the know” have written that providing the © is a sign of amateurism, etc., since every agent and publisher knows the law in this respect.  How utterly absurd, in my opinion, is it for someone to intimate this, regardless of its accuracy.  A person who has given her or his blood, sweat, and tears–and sometimes years–to write a book, can at least take pride via the simple “mark” that it is one’s own.  What’s important to understand, and I must give credit to Kimberley Hitchens at for reminding me, is that a writer can’t sue for copyright infringement unless the work has been registered at the U.S. Copyright Office. The link will take you to the site, and in most cases the fee will be $35.

If a perceived infringement has taken place, this doesn’t mean that registration can’t occur after the “violation,” but I can assure anyone from personal experience that the registration process takes time.  The last book I registered (back in the dark ages when the fee was $20) required about six months before I received notification that my novel was duly in the system.  Regardless, if a writer wants peace of mind and the ability to protect work with the greatest expeditiousness (I know, it’s a lousy word), it’s best to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office as soon as it’s published.  Of course, if material is published by a bona fide house, this will be done by that concern.

To one other point, the copyright forms can be intimidating (at least they were for me), and I’m happy to report that a writer can call the copyright office at 877-476-0778 and a human will actually answer the phone–and from my experience relatively quickly.  I distinctly recall how nice the first person was whom I spoke with the first time, 20 or so years ago, and perhaps you’ll get that same kind soul, ha ha. The point is that an author can discuss any questions with someone who understands the issues, so my suggestion is to take advantage of this opportunity, as your tax dollars are paying for this right to what in my opinion amounts to a free consult.

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