A few FAQs about copyright

Disclaimer: I Am Not a Lawyer. Need a lawyer for your copyright infringement issues? Don’t take the following blog as legal advice. Please.

Over on Indie Writers Unite, my favorite FB haunt these days, there have been several discussions about copyright, what it is and what it isn’t. There’s a fair amount of confusion over copyright and ISBN, so today, I’m doing some research about copyright and what it means to be registered.

My first stop on my quest of understanding copyright was the copyright.gov FAQ. The very first question answered on the FAQ – What is Copyright? Here’s the answer: Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Wow, grounded in the US Constitution. That’s new information, and nice to know. I already knew that copyright covers published and unpublished works. I question what tangible means but that’s answered too.

Copyright exists the moment the work is created. You have a chapter on how zombies ate the world, it’s written, it’s protected. I say paper as a turn of phrase, but this also includes your computer screen. Copyright covers any tangible form that is perceptible either directly or by way of a machine or device, i.e., a computer or your handy-dandy e-reader.

The Copyright office ‘copyright basics’ document goes on to say that registration, while unnecessary, is recommended. Registration records the facts of your copyright to the public record and you’re given a certificate of registration. If you want to file an infringement suit, you have to be registered. If you record your registration before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate. If you register within three months of publication of the work or prior to an infringement, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available.

In case you don’t know what prima facie evidence means, according to law.com it is Latin for ‘at first look’ and means that evidence presented before trial is sufficient to prove the case. There may be legal exceptions to this, but in general, it seems that having your novel registered right from the get go could spare you a lot of legal hassles later on if someone were to steal your work and make money off of it.

Statutory damages, according to biztaxlaw.about.com are used in copyright and trademark cases. Damages are determined by us Copyright law and can vary from $750 to $150,000 depending on what is considered “just”, with higher awards for “willful” infringement. Statutory damages generally aren’t connected to actual cost. Again, a copyright holder can only receive statutory damages if the copyright has been registered.

Copyright registration can be made at any time within the life of the copyright, even if the work isn’t published. You won’t need to register the work again once it is published, though you can if you want.

My thinking is you should get your work registered if doing so will give you peace of mind. It does cost money to do so, though the online fee is only $35. It’s probably a good idea to register if you start selling your books in quantity. The most important aspect of registration is you must be registered to file an infringement suit, so the minute you start making money off your books, register that copyright. That’s just my opinion, based on a somewhat cynical view of how money attracts attention and the zombies will come out after your success if you give them even half a chance.

For more information on the basics of copyright, I recommend the horse’s mouth – the US Gov. copyright office, http://www.copyright.gov/

The FAQ can be found here: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html – what

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