According to the U.S. Copyright office, here are the main points about copyrights that you need to know.
- “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”
- “Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”
- “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.”
- “In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.” S. Office of Copyright, FAQ, at Copyright.gov
- Your published AND unpublished works are automatically copyrighted.
- Copyright covers your intellectual property and authorship but does not protect ideas or facts.
- Your writing is copyrighted the moment you write it.
- You do not need to register your copyright but you are more than welcome to do so for a $35 dollar fee via online registration or $65 for a paper filing.
The benefits of registering are that the copyright becomes part of public record and you receive a certificate of registration. Registered copyrights may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees if you win a lawsuit. Most copyright infringements can be handled with a simple email or phone call because many cases are simply a lack of copyright knowledge or an honest mistake. In the case of dishonest people stealing your works, you need to consider whether you have the financial resources to go to court and if the payout is likely to be worth enough to spend your time and energy on.
A Word About Copyrights
In some cases, it can be very simple to gain permission to reprint copyrighted material for commercial purposes. Most authors have directions in the front matter of their book or on their website about how to gain permission to reprint.
A reprint may be completely free in some cases, as long as the author is cited. In other cases, there may be a small fee, a contract to sign and specific instructions. In the case of music lyrics, it just isn’t worth the effort or costs. I’ve tried, even when I had the permission from the original author. The costs, contracts and long term royalties required by the music producer are simply too much.
Some material quotes are covered by Public Domain and others may fall under Fair Use laws. I am not a lawyer, so I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty details of these laws here. I have defined them in the glossary. You should always do your research on every quote before you use it.
In the Selah Press anthology book 360 Degrees of Grief, we wanted to use one of my favorite William Stafford poems called Circle of Breath. We wrote to his son, who sent us to the publishing house and they gave us a few specific steps to gain permission. They gave us the specific citation required, sent a contract with usage spelled out, asked for a small fee and for a copy of the published book to be sent to the William Stafford Archives at Watzek Library on the campus of Lewis & Clark College. We happily followed every step and his poem now appears in 360 Degrees of Grief. As a William Stafford fans and a Lewis & Clark College Alumni, Kayla is honored to have one of my books shelved in the William Stafford Archives.
On the other hand, we wanted to end a section of 360 Degrees of Grief with the lyrics written by a songwriter who is a friend of mine. He gave me permission and his co-writer gave me permission, but the music producers sent me a long contract and an ASCAP payment plan that was out of the question.
In the Selah Press book, How to Self-Publish, you will see several quotes from Be the Monkey by Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. They gave their permission universally in the front matter of Be the Monkey, “Please feel free to repost all or any portion of this discussion with attribution and a link back to the authors.”