If you consider yourself a writer or have ever published or shared anything online that you’ve written and are truly proud of, you’ve probably asked yourself whether you should copyright it or not. And you’ve probably wondered how to do that and asked yourself whether copyrighting your written work is still important in the Internet age.
Here’s information about how and why you’ll want to consider copyrighting your written work today.
How to Copyright Your Written Work
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Your [written] 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.” And this applies to both published and unpublished works.
So, as soon as you type something on your computer and save it (even before you share it on an online platform or in an email), it is copyrighted. Anything you share on your own website or on your own blog is also automatically under copyright protection.
However, you can also formally register your written works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Here are a few basic steps you’ll want to follow when registering your written works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Step 1 - First, you will want to gain a basic understanding of copyright law, including when, where, and why you’ll want to use copyright symbols and abbreviations. Know the main purpose of a copyright and what rights are associated with a copyright. Here’s a glossary of rights and terms associated with copyrights you’ll want to know about.
You’ll want to know what is and is not protected under an official copyright and how a copyright differs from a patent or trademark. You also need to know the time limits that are associated with a copyright and when a copyright expires.
Step 2 - Once you create an original work, it’s important that it’s “fixed” or recorded in some way to be eligible for copyright protections. Basically, this just means that you need to have something written down or recorded. It’s important to remember that anyone can have or create an idea in his or her head, but something cannot be copyrighted until it is printed on a piece of paper, stored on a computer in a file, or has some other form of tangible and legible record.
Step 3 - Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Once you have completed steps one and two, you’ll want to fill out an application with the U.S. Copyright Office. You’ll need to pay a fee (anywhere from $35 to $55, except specialized registrations which can cost more). And then you will be required to send or upload a copy of the written work that you want formally copyrighted.
Once you fill out your application and submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office, expect to wait up to eight months before you hear back regarding your application and official registration. It can take awhile for the office to ensure your work is indeed original and does not exist anywhere else.
Why You Should Copyright Your Written Work in the Internet Age
At this point you might be asking yourself, “If everything I write is automatically under copyright protection, then why would I want to spend money, time, and energy formally registering my work with the U.S. Copyright Office?” And that’s a very good question.
Here are some important reasons why you should consider officially registering your important written work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- If someone copies your work and tries to pass it off as their own, or tries to sell it without your consent, you will have a public record proving you are the rightful owner of the written work in question—even if they claim they “innocently” copied your work and weren’t aware that you wrote it. This makes it much easier to take a plagiarizer or infringer to court and win a case, collect damages, and evade excessive court-related fees.
- If made before or within five years of publication, a registered copyright establishes sufficient evidence in court concerning the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the copyright certificate.
- Having a registered copyright prevents others from publishing, sharing, or selling your work in its entirety across various platforms without your consent, even if they are attributing the work to you. You can legally send them a “Cease and Desist” letter.
Ultimately, it’s still beneficial and essential to register copyrights for your written works and to include the appropriate copyright symbols and notifications where appropriate.
What copyrighted work do you always make sure to register? Have you ever had a time when officially registering your copyrighted work proved useful and critical? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.