Friday, November 30, 2012

Copyrighting Your Work by Stephanie Burkhart

The Pros, The Cons, The Ugly

What is a copyright? In a nutshell, it's where you register your written work with the Library of Congress (Washington DC). You can also register any film, vocal work, and music with them.

Many authors ask "Do I have to register a copyright?" "Aren't I protected without having to register?"

Technically, you have the copyright as soon as you write down the word. It's your intellectual property. You can still publish a short story, novella, and novel without having to register a copyright.

So what's the benefit of registering a copyright?

It's absolute proof you own the copyright in a court of law. And that's the best protection you could have.

Just recently I heard about the following scenario: An author used the KDP Select Program on Amazon to promote their book. A pirate site came along, pirated the work and attempted to pass it off as their own. They approached Amazon and asked them to take down the work. Amazon contacted the original author and told them they had to prove they had the true copyright. What's an author to do? If you can prove you have registered your copyright, you've just foiled the pirates and kept your work in good standing.

The Pros:

By registering your written work with the Library of Congress you have absolute legal proof of the copyright that will hold up in a court of law.

The Cons:
It's time consuming, costs money, and is a pain the butt. Why put up the hassle?

Let me stress: it is up to you as the author to decide if you want to register your copyright with the Library of Congress. Do your homework. You know your own situation. Remember your work is copyrighted the minute you put it on paper. You're just registering it – offering legal proof to others that the work is yours.

Recently, I decided to register some work with the Library of Congress. There are 3 options:

1. Paper
2. CO form
3. Electronically

Being kind of Internet savvy, I decided to register electronically. The benefits? It costs only $35.00, easily paid with a credit card, and it will take 3 months to receive a paper copy of proof in the mail. I went for it. Guess what? The electronic filing system is picky. It's best supported by using Internet Explorer. I have Safari. One day it worked, the other, it didn't. If you're a Safari user, be aware it's not the most compatible system and it might work one day and not the next.

You have to register for an account which is free. There are 3 steps: the form, the payment, and then uploading your work.

Take your time filling out the form. Don't rush. If its your first time, give yourself about 20 minutes. Once you're done, then you're directed to pay. This part is easy and goes quickly. You should be redirected back to the copyright area where you are prompted to upload a copy of your work. If you have a "doc" or a "pdf" it's an easy upload. If you only have a print copy of your work, then they give you the option to mail it in. Once they receive the print copy, they move forward with processing the paperwork you submitted online.

The Ugly

Using the CO form is similar. You fill out the form on your computer (downloaded from the copyright site), sign it, send it off with your payment of $50.00 and copies of your work to the Library of Congress. Turn around time is 6 months.

The TX form is nasty. Download it from the website, fill it out, enclose hardcopies of your work (1 if unpublished, 2 if published) and $65.00. Turn around time is 10 months.

See the benefits of filing electronically? I received my paper copy proofs in 3 months time. It was really easy.

Does anyone want to share their copyright experiences? Pros? Cons? Ugly? Why do you do it? Or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, & feedback.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher with LAPD. Her books with 4RV Publishing include The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire. She's married and lives in Castaic, California.


  1. If you have registered your copyright with the Library of Congress, you want to send a copy of your certificate to your publisher.

    If you publish through a publisher, then you have date proof of when they received and contracted for your manuscript.

  2. Vivian, nice to know. I'm working on my copyrights now.


  3. Steph, thanks for the copyright info. Early on, I copyrighted a number of poems and two songs. At the time, filing electronically wasn't an option.

    I think it's a good idea for authors to take the time and expense to copyright. The internet is too easy a mark for unsavory people. Better safe than sorry.