Written by Deanie Humphrys-Dunne
Tuesday, 25 December 2012 16:05
by Deanie Humphrys-Dunne
Imagine that you've written a story that makes you proud. It has conflict, good, humorous, dialogue and an exciting plot. What if someone steals your idea?
The only way that you can be positive that no one has stolen your idea is not to publish your work. There are probably hundreds of stories with some similarities to yours. But remember that once you publish your story, there are copyright laws to protect it. But there are no such laws to guard your ideas. You would need to publish your story so that the laws will protect it. Let's explore the copyright laws so you understand more about them.
Is your work protected when you discuss it with your friends? No, when you talk about your ideas, or your story, it doesn't have copyright protection. But once your work is in print in any form, it belongs exclusively to you and no one else can publish it without your permission. (It does not matter if you place a copyright symbol on it or not.) In the United States, and most western countries, the same rule would apply.
Should you register it yourself? Registering a copyright for your work gives you extra rights if you ever have to go to court, including larger settlements. To register your copyright yourself, you may do so by visiting this website: http://www.copyright.gov/ If someone publishes your work illegally, you can take them to court. To do so, you must be able to prove loss of income from their theft, and this loss would need to be significant, as the costs of going to court will be expensive (some say as much as $20,000-$50,000 or more).
What happens if you publish with a small publisher? Even author services companies who publish your book for you will usually register your work before it's published. It is generally part of the publishing fee. If you're not sure about this, be certain to ask what services are included in the fee. It's most important that you check your contract so that you are familiar with what is covered. Usually, the publisher registers your book in your name so that you have the rights to it. The only exception to this might be if it is a "work for hire." You can learn more about a work for hire on the Copyright website.
What are the rules if you publish an article in a magazine? If a magazine is publishing an article for you, they would have registered the entire magazine so it would be protected by copyright laws. The exception would be that you would need to register your own article.
Do you need to worry about publishers stealing your work? It would be very rare for a reputable publisher to steal your work. It's possible that a magazine publisher would publish your work, without letting you know that it was published until after it was released to the public. You might then receive a letter stating that your article or story has been published. In this case, they're not your work, but you may have also submitted it to another company, so this can be quite an embarrassing situation for you. If it's been a long time and you haven't heard from a publisher, you may want to write a note withdrawing the article if you are planning to submit to another company.
What about online publications? In this instance, it's possible that someone will see something in an online publication or on Facebook without realizing that copyright laws apply. They could see your work, like it and copy it to their website or their Facebook page. Generally, if you email them and tell them they used your work without permission, they will delete it quickly. Of course, there might be reasons why you would want them to share it to help you gain a following. In that case, you may want to give them permission to reprint it, provided they give you proper credit and link back to your own site.
What is pirating? This happens when someone actually does steal your work, usually seen online. Someone can scan it and place it on their own website. But it typically happens with very well known books and the person responsible wants to display your work without paying for it. You can try contacting the webhost ISP to see if they will remove the content, though this is not always successful.
If you remember some of these tips, you could save yourself quite a bit of stress. Always submit your very best work to a publisher and don't discuss it until it's been forwarded to a reliable publisher.
Some important things to remember:
1. It's most important to remember that writers often have similar ideas, but it's the way the ideas are presented that matter. Also, keep in mind that there are no copyright laws for ideas, only actual printed work.
2. The safest way to prevent any stealing of your work is to deal with a reputable publisher who knows copyright laws well.
3. Once your work is in print, it's uniquely your own creation and protected by laws (USA).
4. It's best to keep your plans to yourself until your work is safely in the hands of a good publisher who knows copyright laws well.