Copyrighting Your Work
The question has been asked a million times by authors and writers of all types of authorship. Should I copyright my work? That is a decision each author needs to make on his or her own. Copyrighting your work and paying a fee for it does provide a benefit, which we will look at in a minute.
As soon as you write anything, it is under copyright protection. It can be somewhat confusing because the next question is always, “Why would I then pay a fee to have my work registered for copyright through some agency if it is already considered copyrighted?” Great question and the same one that I had initially before I paid for copyright protection. Registering your work for copyright protection is necessary to help enforce the rights of copyright when litigation is involved. It also puts your work(s) on public record, providing you with a certificate of registration. When a work is registered, it then becomes eligible for damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation.
For me, it was an inexpensive way to further protect my works. As new authors, we need the feedback of others to help shape, form and enhance our stories by having other sets of eyes go over the work to find things we may have missed. The best eyes are those of strangers as people we know will tend not to be critical of your writing. For me, having others read my work is such an important step in making my writing that much better and ready for the agents to read. This could be friends, family, or a writing group but you will need strangers' eyes to give you the best feedback. When it comes to strangers reading my unprotected works, it makes me a little nervous that my ideas or even the main storyline could be stolen for someone else to write a story. Might be a little paranoid thinking but I also do not want to be naïve about things of that nature happening. We all know that there are plenty of dishonest people out there. At least, by registering for copyright, I am further protected against something of this nature happening.
I am not paid by or have any personal reason to talk about https://www.copyright.gov/ but this is the agency set up by the Library of Congress for registration of all copyrighted materials. Much of the information you see in this post is information that I had read from their site. It is what I had learned going through the process. I recommend going out to their site and doing your research to know exactly what it is you need to do. I used the “Group of Unpublished Works” to register 9 novels I have written. The cost was minimal at $55 (it has increased as of March 2020, I believe to $65). Still a great bargain to copyright up to 10 unpublished works.
What I learned through the process is that they have some good resources on their site, which can be a little tricky to navigate. I will be speaking solely about the registration I went through for this discussion. They provide a video of how to go through the process and how to tackle each step as there are quite a few. Some of the steps you will not need to do anything. I will tell you to take your time and read everything throughout the steps. If you do not follow their directions to the letter, there is a good chance you will get rejected. The bummer about rejection is that you do not get your money back and will have to pay a second time to register again, properly.
It can take quite some time before you hear back from them on approval. I was not aware of that (my fault) and after I received the email telling me that my application was submitted, I thought I was good. I submitted it at the end of September. In early March, I received a letter in the mail stating my application had been rejected. I was confused as I thought through all these months that I was protected. I wasn’t. So, I called the copyright office to discuss and got someone on the phone right away. She was nice and knowledgeable but confirmed what the letter said. I know the rejection was due to my carelessness, it was something that I did not even catch. Of the 10 works I submitted, one was a book of short stories. In the rules, it clearly states this is not allowed so that was my own stupidity. This is why I said to make sure you read everything carefully.
I resubmitted the same day, going through the same process and paying the fee once again (I was told the first fee was an administrative fee as they still had to go through the process on their end, fair enough). At the bottom, I put in a note about the first rejection and added the case numbers, etc., just for reference. I removed the book of short stories and submitted it, getting my confirmation of submittal. The following day, I received a call from the copyright office saying I had submitted the same way, including the book of short stories. I knew this had to be a mistake so I called again. This person was again extremely helpful and easy to work with on the issue. She explained and as it turned out, I had the incorrect case number in there so they were looking at my first submission. We straightened it out and because of the nature of the issue, she approved me within the next 72 hours.
I will say that everyone I worked with at copyright.gov was very professional, nice, and helpful. Again, make sure you read over their instructions carefully to avoid being rejected and you should be fine. I cannot speak to submitting other works as I have not gone through that process…yet.
If you can afford the cost of the fee, I recommend getting copyrighted on your work(s), just in case. There are some underhanded people out there amongst all the good ones and for a minimal fee, you can gain a little more legal protection for your works and a little extra peace of mind.
Happy reading, happy writing!