Protecting your work

So many people have asked me recently about copyrighting their works and what is entailed with that. Unfortunately, in today’s world, copyrighting your work is simply no longer enough. So I’m going to go through the ins and outs of protecting your work.

In North America and many other countries, your work is protected under copyright laws the minute you put the pen to page, or fingers to keyboard in my case. Every single word you write, you own. Sounds simple, right? In theory, it is. However, there are many more steps that can be taken to further protect your manuscripts, or any other work of art.

One of the easiest ways is to back up your work and save it on your hard drive AND on a memory stick. The date of the last change recorded on your back ups is key here. Should your claim to ownership be contested, the date may be enough to prove that you wrote it first. Of course, this means that you need to keep the back ups indefinitely. I put them on a memory stick dedicated to just my works and keep them in a safe place. One might even consider stashing them in a safe deposit box off site.

Another easy way to protect your work is to print off your first draft and manually edit it. Mark it up with red pen. Write notes in the margins. Make scene changes. Then, keep it. While it won’t prove that you wrote your work first, it is goes a long way to show the process you went through. It’s much harder to fake a first draft, complete with errors, plot flaws and edits. Keep those rough, marked up drafts. I know they take up room but I would rather sacrifice a little bit of space in order to protect my work. I personally put every draft into a three-ring binder, along with contracts and tax forms. I can fit two short stories into one binder.

Consider investing in a “poor man’s copyright”. Once your manuscript is finished, print off a copy, seal it in a large manilla envelope or box and mail it to yourself. Once you get it back, leave it sealed and put it in a safe place. The post date acts as a sort of copyright.

Securing the copyright is usually at the author’s discretion. You don’t technically have to have a copyright. In fact, a copyright does not protect you from being sued, nor does it guarantee that you will win your case if you are sued. Copyrights can cost anywhere from $35.00 to $50.00 and sometimes more. Depending on who you choose to register your copyright with, you may need to provide hard copies of your work to the Copyright Office.

So that’s the long and short of protecting your work. People can and do try to pass off work as their own and it happens to well-known¬†authors. Protecting your work can be a bit time-consuming and may take up a bit of space but it’s well worth it in the end.

Happy writing (and protecting),