As part of my job, I've recently been involved in a lot of copyright questions. Then, in a workshop, I found that a lot of writers don't know a whole lot about copyright.
What are your copyright questions/concerns as writers? I might try and turn it into a column, but for now, what copyright stuff keeps you up at night?
All of it.
Let me start with an easy one.
Lots of writers are concerned about copyrighting their work. How to do it, how to make sure they own the rights. I've heard the trick of mailing yourself a copy of something and using the postmark as a form of proof.
I have very good news.
The moment your work is fixed in a medium, you are the copyright holder. So, when you write it down, type it up, whatever, you own the copyright to that work. If you recite something from your head, and if you record it, that recitation is now fixed in a medium, and you own the copyright.
Keep in mind, it's very difficult to copyright an idea. So if JK Rowling had written down on a napkin, "Boy goes to wizarding school," she wouldn't necessarily own the copyright. It's too vague, too broad. But, as you start plotting things, giving names to things, and creating the structure, you build a better and better case, and by the time you have a manuscript, someone can tell whether it's a blatant ripoff or not.
It's encouragement to get your ideas on paper. Once they're on paper, you own them!
Now the bad news.
Copyright of this type isn't something the government is going to enforce for you. So, if someone ripped off your manuscript and put it on the Kindle store, it's up to you to make the case, seek legal counsel, and so on.
If you're concerned about someone ripping you off, I'd suggest the following:
1. Get it on paper. Out of your head and onto the page.
2. Email it to yourself, and email different drafts. This provides both timestamping and shows the process, which would help demonstrate that this work in progress was yours.
3. Share pieces of it with someone. It can be in a workshop or just someone you trust (or here in the Workshop), but by getting other eyes on it, you can make a better argument.
But the bigger, more improtant question: how would you ever find out that somebody has ripped your story and is selling it on Amazon? All they have to do is change the title and character names; now you can't even find it with a search. If you could search by text string - some specific line of description or dialogue - that would be great, but I doubt that a site like Amazon even suppoprts such a concept.
Yeah, that's the rub. It's pretty difficult to determine if someone is stealing your stuff, and that's especially a challenge for smalltimers. If you're a bigger name, signed with a big publisher, you're more likely to have people to do that work and protect the publisher's interests. As just an individual, you don't have access to that.
But if it's any comfort, it happens to writers on all levels. Piracy of ebooks especially is rampant. You can torrent just about anything.
I try to keep track of who is getting pirated, and I think if no one is robbing from you the book isn't that good. I send congrats the first time I see someone on a torrent.