Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #17: Copyright

I recently did a Picture Book 101 library talk to a group of aspiring adult writers.  (Meaning that the writers were adults, not that they were writing adult content.)  One of the questions that came up was about copyright.

I didn't really have anything prepared about copyright because it hasn't been a big issue for me in my writing career.  I mean, sure, when Viking or Houghton Mifflin publishes a book, they register it and boom - there's a lovely copyright.  But I have never sought to have a manuscript registered for a copyright before it became a book.

When asked, I said that I believed once you write a work it is protected as yours.  I think you're suppose to whip the good ol' © on there for good measure.  A gentleman in the audience raised his hand and told me that I was incorrect.  He was an attorney and you had to register your work formally to be protected.  Well, this started a lot of panicked "clucking" of sorts, because here's what it breaks down to:

These new writers are overly concerned that the ideas in their head will bring forth golden apples that literary thieves are lurking in the shadows, waiting to steal.

All I can say is this.  This has never happened to me.  I share my work with my critique group with zero worries that they will lift my ideas and/or work.  Also, I have never had someone share their work with me and I've thought, D'oh!  I wish I had written that!  I want my name on that!

And that's not to say others haven't written fantastic stuff.  But I want to write my stories.  Jane wants to write Jane's stories.  John wants to write John's stories.  And if you do your research on agents and editors, trust me, they aren't there to steal your ideas.  Editors are there to edit and help create awesome books.  Agents are there to help create awesome talent.

That said, I wouldn't recommend posting chunks of your writing on your blog.  The internet is full of sketchy folk.  (Hey, you're on the internet, aren't you.  Oh no!  So am I!) But a good reputable contest is fine.  You have to put your work out there, otherwise, how will you ever grow?

When I came home that night, my husband went on THE INTERNET (!!!) and found this from the U. S. Copyright Office:

When is my work protected?
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.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. 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. 

All said, I'd recommend putting more of one's time and energy into crafting an awesome story than worrying about who's going to steal it.


Mirka Breen said...

"This has never happened to me. I share my work with my critique group with zero worries that they will lift my ideas and/or work. Also, I have never had someone share their work with me and I've thought, D'oh! I wish I had written that! I want my name on that!"

Ditto. (Did I just steal your words there?^ :0 )

Ideas cannot be copyrighted. Specific ways of wording them can be. Ideas for stories are taken/borrowed all the time, but this is not stealing, legally speaking.

Julie_c said...

Thanks for mentioning that IDEAS CAN NOT BE COPYRIGHTED.

See, now I just stole your words. :)