Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
Copyright is very important for authors. It’s what protects us from having our work stolen. In the United States, all 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” (US Copyright Office).
This, however, has gotten quite a few authors into some trouble.
Lately, I’ve read a good number of “horror stories” about authors who’ve had their works removed from Amazon and other retailers because they – the authors – were accused of copyright infringement of their own work. Someone – a former publisher, a rival, a scammer – flagged their work as copyright infringement, and because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Amazon has to respond by removing that work. The author is contacted and prompted to supply proof that they are the copyright holder.
But how the heck do you do that?
I read about authors sending Amazon their original, date-stamped manuscript, screen shots of the upload process, confirmation of their email address, their identity, etc.
But the best way to prove you hold the copyright to your own work is to register that copyright with the Copyright Office.
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
-United States Copyright Office
If you’re an author with a traditional publishing company, the publisher usually deals with the copyright registration. However, if you’re a self-published author, you need to register yourself. The process is relatively simple. You fill out a form with the details of your book, pay $35, and send a copy (physical or digital) to the Copyright Office.
That $35 fee is annoying, but it is worth it. Self-published authors are more often the target of DMCA attacks like those described above. The reason for that is so many self-published authors have not registered their copyright, and therefore lack the solid legal standing to fight back. Sure, you can hire a lawyer to fight your case, and maybe you’ll win, but that lawyer will cost a whole lot more than $35.
So, please, writer friends, copyright your work!