Oct 16

Applying Online for an Official U.S. Copyright

I had to do copyright registration myself this time because the printer for The Woman Who Values Herself did not include copyrighting among its services. I've paid others to do this for me, because when I first did it in 2005, filling out forms and sending them through the mail, I messed up and the process took 18 months. But now you can apply for copyright for your book, published or unpublished, online, today through www.copyright.gov's eCO (e-copyright) system and it costs only $35 compared to $65 if you apply on paper. The online application requires a little patience for clicking Help and FAQ buttons on the less-than-intuitive interface (which advises you that its maximum file size for the "typical 56kbps modem is 11.3MB," and that its system was built for IE and Netscape browsers. Netscape?!? Gesundheit!). Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers are okay, and I think you can load bigger files now.

You can then upload your text if it's in the right format, which is most anything except .epub, which you'll have to convert to .zip. If your book is already printed, apply electronically for copyright and pay the $35 fee online, and then print out a shipping slip to mail along with two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. I just love the idea of my books in the U.S. Library of Congress. The site warns you that your package will be x-rayed for security reasons. I love thinking that my envelope with two books in it is so important that it scares them up on Capitol Hill.

The whole point of formal registration is to establish yourself as the copyright owner should a dispute arise. Probably one won't. But never say never. Registering your book within three months of publication gives you extra rights in case of litigation.

Copyright.gov is a great site for answering any and all copyright questions about texts, music, video, or any other sort of intellectual/artistic creations.

May 06

Stealing Prose

Author-friend's nonfiction prose article was published by a good litmag about 15 years ago. Long before that, pre-Internet, the mag, without authors' permissions, had agreed to allow its contents to be republished in a lit-crit series sold to libraries. This series was later sold to a database, which allegedly "licensed" the article for use on a website -- one that caters to lazy or dishonest students, providing downloadable research papers, articles, bibliographies, and so on. The author was stunned to find the article there, priced at $6.99.

Author contacts this Plagiarism-R-Us website. Meets with arrogance and refusal to remove the work. Database which allegedly "licensed" the article ignores Author's phone call and letter. Author contacts website's apparent ISP, which says it isn't the site's ISP. Nevertheless, after months, article is finally removed.

Author learns that although the copyright reverted to the author after publication, unless it was then specifically registered with Library of Congress, the author's right to this individual article is essentially theoretical. And it's highly unlikely damages could be recovered, for example, in court.

Screenwriters have a union. Songwriters have a union. For freelance writers there’s a National Writer’s Union offering legal advice and grievance assistance to members ($120/year) -- but how many editors would cheerfully “Hire a Union Writer!”? The Author’s Guild offers members ($90/year) much the same support, plus health-insurance deals, but no self-published authors are allowed.

Now read this again and underline every snag, snafu, artificial difficulty, loophole, clusterf---, and cryin’ shame in this true story about our profession.
May 06

Stealing Poetry

True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.

Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.

This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from Creativecommons.org.

Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!

Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.