One thing most employed people don’t have to deal with, but we creatives do, is legally protecting their projects – the babies of months and months of hard work. Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to build forts around our books and surround them with an army of lawyers, there’s not that much we can do. Acquiring a copyright for your book is the first and only legal step you can take to defend it from intellectual property thieves. It will give you some control over the way your book is used by people; you will make more sales, since plagiarism and illegal downloading would be less likely; and finally, it will stand as legal proof of original work and you as its author. However, we have also come up with two additional things you can do to protect your book, once you have obtained copyright.
- Obtain a copyright.
Copyright protects the text within your book from other people copying it, distributing copies of it, renting, performing, showing or playing your work in public, making an adaptation of your work, and putting it on the internet. However, it does not protect titles, names, ideas, inventions or designs (this is what other rights, such as trademark, are for). It lasts for at least a lifetime and up to 50 years afterwards.
The official law regarding copyright of written work is more similar between the UK and the US than it is different.
In the UK, you don’t need to register a copyright or pay any fees as your work is automatically protected. You’re not required to, but if you add the word ‘copyright’ (or just the symbol ©) to your book, followed by your name and the year of production, it can help in court in a case of infringement. But even if you decide not to, it will not affect the level of protection you have. To enforce copyright in the case of infringement, you should either consult a lawyer or your writers’ association.
However, keep in mind that copyright is territorial, meaning that it only gives protection in the countries where it is granted or registered. To protect your book outside of the UK, you might have to apply in each country you want protection in, depending on the country. For example, if you’re a UK national or resident and your book falls within the scope of one of the conventions listed on gov.uk/copyright it is automatically protected in each country that is a member of that convention.
The copyright law in the US is similar to that in the UK. To obtain a copyright, you don’t have to register with the office; however, it is strongly recommended. Your book is under copyright protection the moment it is created and is possible to be read. Registration is only required when you wish to file a lawsuit for infringement, but it is encouraged as it keeps the fact of copyright on the public record and provides the author with a physical certificate of registration. In addition, registration is considered legally correct evidence and, if the lawsuit is successful, the author may be eligible for compensation for their legal fees.
In terms of copyright outside the US, even though the country honours some other countries’ citizens’ copyrights, this does not apply to all countries – the list of countries and how copyright is affected in them can be found at copyright.gov/circs/circ38a.pdf
In terms of using pen names in the two countries, in the UK, you can link the copyright of your book to your pen name. In the US, it’s better to register the copyright under your real name, although this isn’t necessary, as long as you can prove that you are the author of the book.
More detailed information on copyright can be found at:
- Have physical proof of your authorship
The more physical proof you have that you are the right author of the book, the more chances you’ll have to win in court, if it comes to it.
- Clearly state that your book is protected by the law – add a copyright page to your book.
- Keep physical copies of supporting evidence, such as:
- Evolution of ideas in your book: early drafts, rough recordings…
- Footprints – deliberate mistakes you’ve made in your work that would help identify you as the author. In the case of co-authorship, have a written and signed agreement, clearly stating where each of you stands and what happens if one of you leaves.
- Check carefully any agreements you sign. Whether you’re going with traditional or self-publishing, there are some ways to make sure you’re not being ripped off.
- Have an agent or a lawyer (who specializes in publishing contracts) check any agreements you sign;
- Read books on the subject, especially if you’re a self-publishing author.
- Take action if you suspect your rights have been violated.
If you suspect someone is illegally using your book, GOV.UK suggests taking three steps to solve the problem.
- Come to an agreement. The first thing you should do is try to contact the person and ask them to stop. If necessary, make some sort of deal – going to court would be much more expensive and time-consuming for both parties.
- Involve a mediator – an unbiased person who will provide a third point of view. The outcome is usually beneficial to both parties and it’s cheaper than taking the case to court. However, a mediator won’t make the final decision – this is something that will still have to be done by the two parties.
- Finally, take legal action. If all else fails, file a lawsuit against the person. Bear in mind that the court will usually expect you to try other ways to resolve the dispute before you go to them.