Sunday, May 23, 2010

When Is a Work Copyrighted?

These words, the moment I key them into the computer and they appear onscreen, so they can be read by someone else, from that moment, the words are copyrighted.

Yep, that’s right. Copyright happens the moment a person’s original words are put into a format that can be read by others. They might never be read by others, not ever not never, but they’re protected by copyright law just the same.

The U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

If your words are published, however, copyright takes on new meaning.

Most publishers obtain copyright immediately on submission of your work. For instance, if you send a letter to the editor of a newspaper, the newspaper gains copyright immediately on receipt of your work. Your submission indicates that you agree to grant the newspaper your copyright in exchange for publishing your words. Fair enough.

Book publishers gain copyright through the book publishing contract. This contract grants the publisher the right to market, sell, and distribute the book.

But aren’t there advantages to the author in holding the copyright? I can hear some of you asking.

Not really. If you want your book to sell, you want your publisher to do everything possible to promote it. If your book doesn’t sell, the publisher in the vast majority of cases will be only too happy to give you back the copyright.

Think of the copyright as protection for the author and, should your work become published, protection for the publisher as well.