Copyright for Poets

Category: Publish Your Poetry

Copyright for Poets: Introduction to the discussion of copyright as it pertains to poetry and poets. General information is here to get you started.

WAYS TO PUBLISH POETRY: Part SIX Of A Series
Copyright for Poets
By: Don J. Carlson, Contributing Writer


This article is meant to introduce the discussion of copyright as it pertains to poetry and poets. General information is here to get you started. For official details and legal advice consult a copyright attorney or official government copyright sites. Both are likely to be harder to understand than this article, but they will explain subtleties you will not find here. You have to start somewhere; and keep in mind that protecting your writing is a job that requires you to learn the law.

REGISTER TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
Most people think you obtain copyright by registering. Actually they have it backwards, because you register to protect the copyright you already had as soon as you wrote it. When you create a poem, you, alone, have the right to publish or modify it. Your rights like these are recognized by the law. You have all the intellectual property rights to your output. Anybody who claims they produced it is infringing on your rights as its creator. You don’t need to do anything to obtain rights, as you have them as soon as you finish writing the words on paper. On the other hand, if you ever need to prove you created the work, you may have a selling job to do. You must sell a judge or jury on your honesty as the author. To do this, you have to offer proof. If some liar claims he wrote it, you may have to prove you created it. If you were seen writing it down for the first time, you may have to prove you weren’t just writing his poem from memory. The earliest proof of ownership is likely to be convincing. If the liar claims he wrote it in 1998 and you can show proof that you had published it in 1997, you would have the stronger claim. If you also registered it with the US Copyright Office in 1997 you would have an official document that it was in your possession at that time, and proof that you claimed ownership then.
Ultimately any contested claim may be resolved in court. Don’t count on the court to find the truth without help. Learn about and protect your rights.

TO COPYRIGHT, IT MUST BE IN FIXED FORM
Your copyright begins the moment the poem is created in fixed form. It cannot be copyrighted if it is only in your head. Fixed form includes audio recording as well as written or printed form. Even a handwritten poem is protected by copyright.
The Copyright Handbook : How to Protect & Use Written Works (4th Ed)
Click For Book Info.

NOBODY CAN LEGALLY PUBLISH YOUR POEM WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION
Registering does not give you the rights. It just serves notice that you are the writer. It also creates an official document of your claim. You already have the full rights to your poems. Nobody else has the right to publish them without permission from you.
You can register all the poems you have written on one form as a group of poems. You will need to name the collection and remember what poems are contained there for future reference. Registering a group of poems costs no more than registering one poem. Normally when a poem is published in a literary magazine or commercial magazine, copyright notice is given in one of the proper forms with ownership noted to the authors. The standard form is Copyright (Year) (Your name). This notice is not now required but is wise to include as it serves notice to the general public of your claim.

REGISTERING IS A WAY TO CREATE EVIDENCE OF OWNERSHIP
Registering a copyright is a way of posting official notice that you claim ownership. If your rights are ever questioned, you would need to provide evidence of creation or prior ownership of your work. That proof could be in any form that proof is normally given in court proceedings, including copyright registration, notice of ownership in the earliest publication, or testimony from personal witnesses who knew you had written the poem or had heard you read it or seen it in your possession at a specific date.

IF YOUR WORK HAS GREAT VALUE, BE SURE TO SEE AN ATTORNEY
Copyright law can be very complicated; and if the work has very great monetary value, can require the services of a copyright attorney. Such an attorney may charge two or three-hundred dollars an hour for his or her services.
Typical pay for publishing a poem in a hardcover book may be in the vicinity of 100 to 150 dollars for one-time publishing rights. Any time you publish a poem you make it available to the general public. Poetry readers are not the most notorious thieves of monetary intellectual rights, although they are likely to send copies to their friends.
You should always take reasonable precautions with your writing, nevertheless. If your work is ever challenged you would be glad you had registered it or consulted an attorney.
The Copyright Book : A Practical Guide
Click For Book Info.

REGISTRATION SETS AN OFFICIAL CLAIM DATE
The purpose of a date of copyright is to establish a date from which the term of protection begins and in some cases when it expires. Older copyrights and some nations’ copyrights may expire at a specific date figured from the registration date. US copyrights now expire a specific number of years after the author’s death. At some point all writing goes into public domain although it is very likely to remain recognized as the work of a specific author.

YOUR WORK IS PROTECTED BUT SO IS THE OTHER GUY’S
You are likely to hear many people say that a work is in public domain when it is not. You may even become a victim of such misinformed people. You should not take chances on reproducing the work of other writers and assuming that their work is not protected by copyright. In the present law almost all written material is protected.
There is an old saying about civil law that you always sue the “Deep Pockets.” It is true that lawsuits are usually about money rather than principle. Even so you are risking your present and future assets if you infringe on another’s copyright.
Every Writer’s Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law
Click For Book Info.

READ ABOUT COPYRIGHT ON THE WEB
To get a preview of copyright rules, you should read some of the material available on the web. Here is a good site to read. It is about misstatements and misunderstandings of copyright law. Explore the site and read the article ‘A brief intro to copyright.’ It will provide links to other copyright sites. For non-US copyright law, follow the proper links to Berne Convention sites. Here is the site for copyright myths.


http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

The authoritative site for copyright information for U.S. copyright is the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office. Its ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ link is especially helpful to most readers although it is not specific to poetry. Follow other links to explore the entire copyright office site. Here is the FAQ site:


http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/faq.html#ql

© 1999 Don J. Carlson