It’s a problem. It happens every day. Sometimes professionals are the culprits, but sometimes they are ordinary, otherwise law-abiding citizens who use some variation of “but everybody does it” to excuse what is quite simply a crime. If you don’t like moral lectures, then I suggest you skip this post, but personally I’d be much obliged if you’d take a moment to read it, and positively delighted if you took the message to heart.
China may have the reputation as the biggest intellectual property thief in the world, and rightfully so. However, much of the theft that occurs is in fact perpetrated within China itself. The same is true in the U.S. While there are certainly folks all over the world trying to steal Americans’ intellectual and trade secrets, most thieves are right here in the states.
I dare say most (or at least many) of the people who regularly post things on the internet have infringed on copyright laws, usually involuntarily. A simple warning in the form of a formal legal notice is enough to correct this accidental misbehavior in the majority of cases. However, there are a few out there who knowingly and wilfully continue to violate such laws. Some recognize the fact that what they are doing is illegal. But perhaps worse than these professional criminals are those who refuse to think of themselves as criminals simply because “everybody else does it too” or “the artist is so rich, they won’t notice.”
Despite these illogical arguments, the fact remains that they are going against both moral and legal statutes. Some of us know people like this. Perhaps most of us do. Sometimes it is someone very close to us, which makes the situation all the more difficult. In these cases, while turning them in may be rather unappetizing, I do think that the least we can do is explain to these people why what they’re doing is wrong and make it clear that we disapprove. The choice is ultimately theirs as to whether they continue with their criminal enterprise or respect the rights of artists and publishers as they would presumably want their own respected. But at least you can operate with a clear conscience regardless.
Stepping down from my soap box, I would like to spend a moment talking about how exactly you go about protecting your work from criminal elements both professional and otherwise. As stated in last week’s post, your work is technically copyrighted to you the moment you create it. However, in order to defend this claim in official circles, you may need some additional measures in place. The first, and perhaps easiest method is to create a copyright page.
Here is an example from my novel, Sauragia. As you can see, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or extensive. Just enough to assert who owns the rights to this work, plus a little additional publishing info for those who are interested. You can get more elaborate, of course, and fill up the entire page with tiny print like some really big publishers do, but this is not required. (There is a lot more information on this subject and plenty of pre-made templates out there. The one I used came from here.)
While this notice is enough to deter most, it always pays to back up your copyright by actually registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office (or whatever the equivalent may be in your country). This involves filling out several forms and paying a registration fee. It was $65 for me to register online. This can also be done via U.S. mail, but there is an extra charge for physical processing.
Either way, you will receive a letter anywhere from a couple months to over half a year from the Copyright Office confirming your copyright. If there is any additional correspondence in the meantime, processing will take longer. By the end of the process, you will have as much legal protection as you can get for your work. Copyrights are not necessarily foolproof (prosecuting criminals in overseas countries can be done, but only rarely has it seen success), they are nevertheless a good start. As an additional layer of protection, you can also mail yourself a physical copy of your work and store it away somewhere safely unopened, but there’s really no substitute for registering an official copyright.
So, that’s copyrighting in a nutshell. It would be nice if we lived in an honest, upright world where such legalistic protective measures were not necessary, but alas… If you have any questions or comments concerning this process or intellectual property protection in general, I would be happy to hear them.