Back when I first started writing blogs here, one of the earliest articles I wrote was on copyright protection for your novels. And actually, everything I wrote back then was true.
However, I’ve since become aware of some additional truths to copyright and court appearances, thanks largely to this article. I’ll try to summarize as best I can.
First and foremost, yes, the intellectual copyright law means that the moment you create something, it is copyrighted to you. And yes, it is still important to have some means of proving that you created the work when you did. If it should go to court in contention with another written work, this is extremely important.
However, and this is the big point that I didn’t know: as far as a court of law is concerned, it is possible for two people to create the same thing without ever being aware of each other or each other’s creations.
Let’s say someone wrote a book that is very close to identical to The Sword of Dragons and published it today. I have proof that I published The Sword of Dragons in 2015, and that I first wrote it before then (and even have proof of initial development going back over a decade.)
However, unless I can prove that this person was aware of my work, a judge will most likely rule in favor of “mutual co-creation” and neither person will owe the other anything. The only exception would be if it is an exact or near-exact recreation (IE: it was obvious they copied rather than came up with it on their own.)
This is where filing for a copyright comes into play…
Giving Yourself The Best Protection
When you go to copyright.gov and file an official copyright for your novel (or work of art or song), you are essentially giving notice to the world: this is my story. I wrote it, I published it on this date, and therefore it belongs to me.
As far as the law is concerned, that is the most important part: giving notice. It doesn’t matter if that other author knew of my book’s existence or not. It doesn’t even matter if they checked the copyright office before hand or not. If they publish their work after I copyright mine, I automatically would win a court case. The judge would simply say to them, “It’s your job to check the copyright office for notice, and you failed to do so.” In most cases (there’s always exceptions) I would win the case.
My Advice to Writers
If you are publishing your work, whether online for free or on Kindle or as a print book, pay the $35 and go through the process of getting a copyright. Should your story do well, this is a solid way of protecting you and your intellectual property.
Note that you CAN submit an unpublished, electronic document. But once your novel is published and has a physical copy, you need to go through the process of sending them a physical copy to obtain a copyright on your physical product.
I hope this helps my fellow authors! Let me know if you have any advice, or for that matter, questions on this subject :)
Thanks for reading,