You Need to Register Your Copyright

Every so often, I come across some blog post or a Facebook group message, or something, where a writer is asking about copyright certificates and the like. Amazon is becoming more insistent on obtaining those copyright certificates, and rightly so.

Too many times, I have encountered some horror story where some honest writer has had their precious work taken down from the Amazon sites because some BLEEP has chosen to claim that they own the copyright. If this happens to you, it falls on you to prove the other person is wrong.

To complicate matters, far too many writers choose not to register their copyright with a copyright authority because of the cost. However, these are the writers that run the risk of finding themselves being the victim of some copyright scam.

All writers want to protect their writing as much as possible, and for the most part, people are honest. It’s the shady ones that you need to worry about. Here is where taking a few simple steps can save you.

Proof of Draft is Not Enough

Under the copyright laws in most countries, a dated draft is all that is needed to prove that you are the owner of the manuscript. However, what most people don’t realise is how easy it is to create a dated draft using snippets sourced from a variety of locations.

A large number of writers have taken to posting their works on sites such as WattPad. Some even post snippets on their personal websites. As marketing ploys, these are all good ideas, but these also open you up to the charlatans. It doesn’t take much to copy your content that you have shared on these public sites and create a file from them. And dating a file… Um, the dates on these files are recorded as the computer date. All you need to do is set your computer date to some time in the past and, whiz-bang, the file is time-stamped as created on that date in the past.

See how easy it is?

Arm WrestlingTo add a layer of scary, there are programs out there that can extract content from ePub files. I use such a program myself — to edit my ePub files before I upload for distribution. And if someone gets their hands on a PDF file, normally, all you have to do is select the text, and you can copy and paste it into a Word document.

Are you starting to get a picture on how easy it is to falsify a draft?

If people really want to play underhanded tactics, they will. You can’t stop them. A dated draft is NOT enough to protect your copyright. You need a copyright certificate. (Dare I say it, in some cases, even that’s not enough.)

While having a certificate is the preferred method, you can take advantage of older laws where the postmark on snail mail is a legal date. Print out a copy of your manuscript and mail it to yourself. When it comes in, leave the envelope unopened — just shove it into a drawer. (I know someone who does this for plot point ideas, mailing extremely rough drafts. That way she can prove when the idea actually came to her.)

Copyright Registration

Within my home country of New Zealand, there is no formal registration for copyright. It is assumed that the moment something is in a tangible format that it is covered under the copyright laws. Because New Zealand is part of the international copyright agreements, one would think that copyright registered in New Zealand would be covered under the laws in other countries. This idea works only if you can prove that you own the copyright, and with no formal copyright registration, that can be a tall order.

I could lodge my copyright in another country. As Australia is New Zealand’s closest neighbour, they would seem like the logical choice. (It’s almost a dollar-for-dollar exchange rate too.) However, there is no formal registration process in Australia either. In fact, according to the Australian Copyright Council website, they actually suggest that those distributing works in the US register their copyright in the US — and you’ll find links to the US Copyright Office website.

The Australian government recognises the power of copyright registration, yet they don’t offer a formalised registration process themselves? I must be missing something here.

So, I could turn to the US Copyright Office, but shall we say OUCH! US$35 might not sound like much, but that’s for EACH copyright application. When you put in the exchange rate (US$1 is approximately NZ$1.45), it can become a costly exercise, very quickly, especially if you have multiple items to copyright.

I personally subscribe to Copyright Index. It is an international copyright registrar that is recognized in 187 countries around the world, including China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Thailand (some of the countries where copyright infringement is rampant). It cost me NZ$90 to join, and I can register as many manuscripts, images, or songs as I like. I get issued a dated certificate for each, and the files are all protected. If I discover that someone has infringed on my copyright, Copyright Index provides legal services to assist in infringement claims, working with various agencies around the world.

If anyone tries to claim my writing as their own, it’s going to be a bit hard to refute a certificate issued by an internationally recognized registration body.

I also register the copyright on any commissioned artwork that I obtain. As part of the contracts, I insist on signed documentation stating the transfer of copyright to me. Digital copies of these documents are uploaded into the Copyright Index system, along with copies of the images themselves. Between company logos, commissioned artwork, and my manuscripts, I currently have over 20 individual copyrights registered — each with a certificate that was issued within a matter of minutes.

It’s about protecting myself. I don’t want anyone to sue me for illegal use of images, or going after my writing.

Amazon Might Want Proof

Copyright BombSo, let’s turn our focus back to Amazon and their practices.

Recently, I encountered a desperate plea for help from a writer in Scotland who was being threatened by Amazon to have their work taken down unless they could prove that the work published under a pseudonym was actually their work. The whole situation started because the name on their KDP account was a legal name for tax purposes. There was a whole range of suggestions that Amazon had provided, each just as dodgy as the next.

They had suggested that you could send an email from the domain of your pseudonym. No offence, but there are so many different variants of domain names available. All it would take is for some shaddy character to register an alternative domain, and guess what… Instant email that is fake, but looks legit.

Amazon suggested a contract between the two names. Umm… A contract between a legal name and a fake name? Does anyone else see the issue with this?

They also suggested that you provide a copyright certificate registered to the pseudonym, and the wording actually said pseudonym. Seriously? Amazon is recommending that authors register copyrights using fake names? No way.

Their other suggestions were just as crazy.

Copyright and Pseudonyms

I can see the confusion that can occur if you publish under a pseudonym. This is why for my children’s stories that I will publish under a pseudonym, there is an added note on the copyright applications that the stories are to be published under the name of Syrese Smalt. I also have added notes for any copyright where the copyright is owned by dual parties as to who the other copyright owner is.

In all cases, my copyrights are registered to my REAL name, making them legal documents. No one can do some shaddy, underhanded work and come up with fake IDs for a given name and claim that they own copyrights registered to that name. Sorry, guys, but I have documents that go back to my birth stating that the name I use is MINE.

Copyright, Publishing, and Piracy

If you are self-publishing, the responsibility of copyright falls entirely on your shoulders. For those who are traditionally published, take a good look at your contracts. It should be spelled out exactly who is responsible for registering the copyright. Any reputable publisher should register for this on your behalf. If they don’t, then you had better get off your ass and sort it.

Formal registration of copyright might not be something that a traditional publisher had even thought about. Remember that both New Zealand and Australia don’t have a formal registration process. If your publisher is based in one of those countries (or some other country that also doesn’t have a formal registration process), then your contract might not actually say anything at all about copyright registration. The publisher might actually be assuming that all is okay. However, as I’ve described above, all is not okay.

Protect yourself. Protect your writing.

Many countries do have copyright treaties, protecting the copyright registered in another country. In most cases, this means that you should be able to register for copyright within your home country only and be protected in the other country, but this is not guaranteed. Be sure that you know exactly what your rights are, and how to protect your writing from within your own country and the country where you are publishing.

Regardless, there are some lowlifes who don’t care if you own the copyright or not. While having proof will protect you from these shady characters on sites such as Amazon and Smashwords, it won’t stop the pirates. There’s not a lot you can do about them, except take their actions as a form of flattery.

This tip is one of the many tips found in Hidden Traps: A Writer’s Guide to Protecting Your Online Platform by Judy L Mohr.

Hidden Traps - Available August 1st

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

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