Get an Official U.S. Copyright, Online
This Alone Won't Protect Your Work from Piracy
Legal Protection for U.S. Citizens and Non-Citizens
Concerned that someone might copy or pirate your novel or story and make it a Hollywood hit -- and you'll get nothing? You can protect your writings and illustrations from piracy whether the work is published, self-published, or unpublished, by registering it for a U.S. copyright. The online process at www.copyright.gov is simple. I've done it twice!
Using the U.S. "eCo" (e-copyright) registry system is excellent legal protection for your work should a dispute about ownership arise. It is true that your work is supposed to be copyrighted to you from the moment you begin creating it. But if it's officially registered, your copyright will prove your ownership, no question about it, and then you can sue for any money a pirate made from it, and receive the judgement plus court costs. This is worth the $35 fee.
If you don't have a registered copyright and someone steals your work, you can sue and try to make them stop, but that could be expensive.
You do not have to reside in the U.S. or be a citizen in order to obtain this powerful legal protection.
If your work is in litigation right now, there's even an expedited copyright process that'll have you legally covered within a few days. But it's best to plan ahead and register for copyright in advance of any trouble, if:
- you think there is a good chance that your work will be copied by someone else who'll profit monetarily
- your novel is first in a series
- the book is on a subject so popular, such as self-help, recipes, or astrology, that it might make money, which attracts pirates
- it's a screenplay. Know that ideas, concepts, and scenarios cannot be copyrighted, so if someone "stole your idea," you don't have grounds to sue. But if the movie uses the dialogue you wrote, you can sue.
These kinds of works are so unlikely to be "stolen" it's not worth paying the $35 fee:
- first novels
- journals, diaries, and letters
- fan fiction
- religious testimonials
- political opinions
- work done for your job, such as writing or designs for newsletters, or reports. This is called "work for hire" and your employer owns the copyright.
To start registration, be sure to click on "Start Registration." Locate the "continue" button. You should also know, and the site warns you, that your application creates a public record, and your name and contact information become public information when you apply for copyright.
At the end of the 12 screens click "Add to Cart," and there will be a link to the secure site for payment. Pay $35 from your debit or credit card or bank account. Then you can upload your text, provided it is in an acceptable format.
Acceptable manuscript formats for upload include: .doc, .docx, .pdf, .html, .rtf, .txt, .ppd and .wps. If your work is none of these you must convert it. If your format is .epub, you must convert it to .zip.
If you are copyrighting a book that will be printed or is already printed, such as a self-published book, there's a sheet to print out and send to the U.S. Library of Congress through the postal mail, along with two copies of the book. The Library always requests two copies. You want your book to be available in the national library.
Whether you have uploaded your work or mailed it, your copyright registration certificate will arrive in the postal mail. This is a legal document; keep it. Your creative work will have the best protection available, and your copyright will last for your lifetime plus 70 additional years. Note: There is no copyright protection for titles, or for ideas.
Self-publication on paper or in a hard copy, even if you have the "c in a circle" with your name and the date on it, does not protect your work the way U.S. copyright registry does.
It is best to register within three months of finishing or publishing your work. Do not wait until there is a copyright dispute to register. Expedited registration service will cost $760. Being proactive might pay off!
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