Saturday, April 30, 2011

Copyright and Writers

If you are a writer using the Internet as a platform for your work, it’s a good idea to have some knowledge of copyright law. I recently made my entry into the blogosphere this year on two different blog sites. One site I use mainly for random thoughts, pictures and anything else that ricochets through my mind. The other site is a more creative endeavor where I actually organize my ideas, write them out in an orderly fashion, rearrange them and then put them back the way they were.

Last November, I waded a bit deeper into the blog pool by participating in the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest. This is an exercise where one agrees to spend the month of November writing a novel. If you succeed in writing 50,000 words (no, it can’t be the same word written 50,000 times) you win. During the course of the month, I proceeded to hurl out words diligently each day. Finally having sufficiently fretted and edited to exhaustion, I pressed the submit button. Wee! Off went my novel, my baby, my shame, out into that bold frontier known as cyberspace. So relieved was I to have completed the task, that I forgot to scramble the text before I sent it. “Uh-oh” said the little voice inside my head. After a few seconds of panic, I shook it off, secure in the knowledge that if need be, I could provide enough incriminating evidence to prove that I was in fact the perpetrator of the crime.

I returned to dabbling on my little blogs, and all was well until a few weeks ago, when a friend who has a website received a cease and desist email from a publishing company. She had posted pictures on her site that had been published in a magazine, and even though she makes no money from this site, the publisher requested that they be taken down, or face the legal consequences. She immediately complied and advised anyone else who may have re-posted the pictures to please do the same. This incident created some debate amongst the website’s friends and followers, and gave me pause for thought.

I decided to do some research to find out what my rights are regarding intellectual property. I researched many websites including the U.S. copyright office (oddly enough, this seems to be the source that most other sites have copied and pasted into their own blogs). What I discovered is that while our writing is automatically protected the moment we put words to paper, that protection might not be enough. If you are going to post something that you care about, have spent time on, or caused your naturally ash blonde hair to whiten, the first thing you should do is establish ownership of the work by dating it with your name and a warning that it cannot be copied without your permission.

Other sites suggest implementing the “poor man’s copyright.” This involves printing out your work, dating it and mailing it to a lawyer or another trusted party, to hold onto in case it becomes necessary to sue. It should be noted that this method may not hold up in court, however, it will provide your attorney with a hearty chuckle.

If you discover that your work has been copied, (you can do this by using plagiarism detection sites such as Google Alerts) contact the individual who did so and explain to them that they did so without your permission and ask that they take it down. If they don’t comply, the next step is to send them a cease and desist letter, and if that goes unnoticed, you need to contact the website host and inform them of the violation.

So, what it comes down to is that if you think you may have written the next “Gone with the Wind,” go ahead and spend the $35 to have your work copyrighted. If on the other hand you don’t mind sharing your views on important topics such as “Should Tarantino have Directed the Last Installment of the Twilight series?” then by all means hit that post button and hit it often.

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