As a published author, I am amazed and encouraged by the current “independent” publishing boom happening as a result of the popularity of the Kindle and Nook readers. Writers who once papered their walls with rejection slips now take chances by producing their work on their own. Some, like HP Mallory and Amanda Hocking, have succeeded in finding audiences and sales. Others do well enough to cover the monthly grocery bill, but in the end all writers should be concerned about issues involving copyrights.
Just as it is simple for an author to upload a book to Amazon for sale, it’s easier for somebody to take an existing book, change the title and cover, and do the same thing. The latter situation, however, exemplifies violation of the original author’s copyright. If you intend to write and publish your works, you should get to know the US Copyright laws very well. While this article will not cover them completely, it will touch on a few of the best known and debated myths:
1) It is required to register everything you write with the US Copyright Office.
Not necessarily, though some authors may wish to do so for peace of mind. If you find a publisher for your work, the publisher may handle registration for you, or else instruct you on how to do it. Essentially, though, if you include “Copyright (date) by (your name)” with your work, that is legally sufficient. Some authors, too, may apply what is called the “poor man’s copyright” to a work by mailing sealed copies of the works to themselves, then storing the packages. This way, should somebody try to pass your work off as his own, you have the materials.
2) If enough people circulate the work, the copyright becomes void.
This is simply not true. This just means that more than one person is violating the copyright. Depending on the laws of the country, a copyright on a work will not expire until a certain period of time has elapsed. In the United States, books published after 1978 do not become public domain until seventy years after the death of the author or copyright holder. Books published before 1923, however, are primarily in the public domain. If you were to visit the Project Gutenberg website, you would find that you can download works by Mark Twain that are public domain, but you will not find Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which is still under copyright.
3) Since there is no copyright listing on the work, that means it’s public domain.
This hearkens back to the first myth. A work is copyrighted when an author writes it.
4) Circulating the work, and even charging for it, doesn’t really hurt anybody.
With the advent of digital download has come a new pastime for people, commonly known as piracy. One can easily find a torrent website that offers downloads of novels, music, and even full-length movies. The notorious site Napster was originally conceived as a file sharing site where people could upload music files – they came under fire from music groups and the RIAA for copyright infringement. Similarly, it is not uncommon to visit a site designed to showcase original writing and discover somebody has uploaded published romance novels. Even the Harry Potter books, which have yet to be made available in eBook format, have shown up on torrent sites!
When you upload a book, song, or movie to a sharing site, you might think it doesn’t hurt anybody. In truth, you are taking profits from the people who created those works. For every thousand downloads of a novel, that author loses royalties, money that may otherwise have paid a heating bill or rent.
5) Copyright violation isn’t really a punishable crime.
Commercial copyright violation in the United States is a felony if more than ten copies of the work (valued over $2500) are involved. Nonetheless, many copyright holders have found it frustrating to administer takedowns of illegal copies of their works because the sites involved may be registered in other countries where the laws don’t apply. All the same, if you are unsure a work is in the public domain, think before you share it.
There are ways to legally obtain copyrighted works – buying them from authorized resellers, checking them out at the library for two. As a writer and consumer, it is important to note how the copyright statues in this country work.