Greetings. Let’s get a few things straight.
I’m not a licensed attorney.
Sure, I’ve got a Bar card from California, but I stopped paying the dues on it. They say I can’t practice until I pay up.
Let’s see who outlasts who.
Regardless, I get hit up for a lot of free advice. I’m all about free advice, but I hate repeating myself, so here’s the chronicle.
Enjoy these freebies, you cheapskate.
Why Should I Copyright My Story?
Because the world is full of thieving bastards. This is not cynicism – human beings steal.
Let me ask you a question – have you ever downloaded something that wasn’t yours (be it music, movie, software, or ebook)? Raise your hand if you have.
You hear that swishing sound? That’s a couple hundred million thieving bastards raising their hands. Welcome to the club.
Having proven my thieving bastard hypothesis, I must stress, it only takes one:
- One thief to steal your stuff
- One thief to claim your work
- One thief to profit from your labor
- One out of hundreds of millions…
Are you nervous yet? Good. Nerves lead to action, and action will keep your work safe.
A copyright is like a frickin’ huge stamp on your work proclaiming it as MINE. If anyone lifts your brilliant ideas, then you have the right to sue the living Bejesus out of them. You will own them in court.
But Isn’t Copyright Difficult and/or Expensive?
If I were still a lawyer, I would say “yes” and charge you a fat sack of money.
You know those bags with large dollar signs from old timey movies? I’d request one of those.
Because I’m a reformed lawyer, I can faithfully say…
Copyrighting your work takes twenty minutes and $35.00. That’s it.
How long did you spend writing your book? I’m guessing more than twenty minutes.
How much money would you spend to protect it? If it’s less than $35.00, you are incurably cheap and deserve all the horrible things that will happen to you, including but not limited to visitations from three Christmas ghosts.
Here Are The Exact Steps to Copyright:
1. Go to www.copyright.gov, disable your pop-up blocker. I don’t know why the government wants you to disable your pop-up blocker, but I suspect it has something to do with scanning your brain waves.
2. Click “eCO Login“
3. Register a User ID and Password – make it something easy to remember but not something that will draw attention. I recommend against using “Iamaterrorist“, Password “123456“.
4. Click “Register a New Claim“, start registration. After you finish each registration section, hit the “Save” or “Continue” button, depending on which is offered. This website is super user friendly and will walk you through each category. I’ve listed and defined them as steps 5-18.
5. Choose Type of Work – Odds are, unless you’re a total weirdo you’re either registering your novel, nonfiction book, or screenplay. If you’re here for fiction or nonfiction, list your item as a “Literary Work.” If you are registering a screenplay, list your item as a “Work of Performing Art.”
6.Title – Write the title.
7. Publication/Completion – This section wants to know if your work has already been published. If so, tell them when.
8. Author – List your name, what country you’re from, and the year of your birth.
9. Claimants – This section asks to list anyone who has a claim on your work. List your name and address, if anyone else has an ownership interest in your work, put their info down too.
10. Limitation of Claim – Has a portion of your work been previously published? Is any part public domain? Leave this section blank unless you’re publishing an anthology or anything with multiple prior claims and interests.
11. Rights & Permissions Info – If someone else handles your literary business (publisher, agent, mom) list their information here.
12. Correspondent – Who should the government contact if you screwed up your app (I’m guessing you)?
13. Mail Certificate – List the address where you want Uncle Sam to mail your shiny new copyright cert in six short months. Great for framing or stuffing in dusty file cabinets!
14. Special Handling – This section gives you the option to request Special Handling for the low, low cost of $760. For the love of God, do not fill out any part of this section! The only way you need special handling is:
a. Someone stole your work, you were foolish enough not to have a copyright and now you need one…fast; or
b. You are a copyright lawyer who spent the last six weeks ogling strippers in Cabo instead of filing your clients claim. Welcome back to the real world, now pay up before you get sued for malpractice…again!
15.Certification – Click that you are the author, give your name. Curse Uncle Sam for an insane love of redundancy.
16. Review Submission – Check for errors.
17. Add to Cart, Check Out, Pay via Credit Card or Check, hit “Continue.” Congratulations, our government is $35.00 closer to solving the debt crisis.
18. Submit Your Work – Hit “Browse,” add the appropriate file, draft a short description, submit.
Why Do All This Work? Can’t I Just Send Myself the Manuscript in a Sealed Envelope?
Sure grandpa, you can do that.
In fact, the second you publish your work, it’s officially your intellectual property. A U.S. copyright is simply the best and most well-recognized way to claim an item is yours.
Let me give you a hypothetical. Imagine you wrote The Secret Window.
Good work, that’s some compelling stuff.
Uh oh, it looks like Stephen King just published your work. That’s not fair, he’s already nailed three best sellers this year.
You sue Mr. King, bringing to court your sealed envelope and sob story. King swoops in with eight lawyers, a dancing clown, a red rose that may or may not contain a whole other universe, and a copyright slip.
Guess who just won the case? I’ll give you a hint, he’s casting Johnny Depp while you’re crying big tears into a warm glass of Pabst.