Help! Copywrite Question


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In reading the blog of a successful self-published author I respect, I notice that she recommends that once you finish a book, you fork over the $35 or whatever it is to have your manuscript copywrited.

Is this only something that you do when you self publish? Has anyone else done this? Does it matter if you edit after you do this? Will modifications need to be recopywrited?

Is that even a word? :)

All I know is you own your own copyright without paying. How paying for what you already have helps, I have no idea, but sounds contradictory to me. Hopefully someone will have a better idea?
I try to pay for copyright before disclosing anything, as part of my somewhat paranoid belt'n'braces approach. My opinion is that lodging your work with an independent third party, on a clearly verifiable date, could save a lot of pain in the future; imagine having to go back through all your files, documents, early versions of your novel, etc., to establish exactly when you created a particular character / exceptionally witty string of dialogue / wonderful imaginary world, in order to prove that your work has precedence over that of a third party. If you are only half as disorganised as me, it would be a nightmare.

Of course you have the copyright from the date you have written something; but can you PROVE what that date was? Paying for copyright proves that you created something rather before the date you paid for the copyright. I'd rather pay a little and have a degree of peace of mind, than pay nothing and have the moral high ground but--possibly--little else.

Only my opinion, and I have next to no experience in these matters.
The Writer and the Film Producer: An Extremely Soppy Fable (E-sop fable, for short)

The Writer has by dint of hard work, sleepless nights, chocolate, whisky and occasional visits from a supercilious Muse (‘I don’t mind slumming, it reminds me of how lucky I am’), has produced an epic work which is both devastating and uplifting in that it illustrates the pain and joy of human existence while leaving the reader inspired, tearful, exhausted, energised, collapsed in uncontrollable mirth and grief-stricken. You know the kind of thing, writers do it all the time. The Writer realises it would make a very good screenplay, and takes it to the Film Producer.

The Film Producer looks it over with his team of camera-men, special effects advisors and lawyers. They agree that it would make a very good screen play. Unfortunately, they have been working on something very similar themselves. Remarkably similar, in fact. So thanks, but no thanks. Go away, Writer.

The Writer returns to his garret and exists in poverty and despair for three years. Then he goes to see a newly released film, which he realises is—just as the Film Producer promised—remarkably similar to the work that he had shown to the Film Producer. He goes back to the Film Producer, and politely puts his case.

The Writer: Your film is so similar to my screenplay, I think there must have been a breach of copyright.

The Film Producer: Prove it.

The Writer: Err....

So the writer goes home and tries to find all his notes and early drafts and revisions (remember, this was from more than three years ago). After weeks of painstaking labour, he believes he has a case. He returns to the Film Producer.

The Writer: Look, here are all my Word documents with the early versions of my screenplay. You can see how similar it is to your film, you can see how it has developed over time, and, most importantly, you can see when it was written by reference to the dates that the files were created.

The Film Producer: [roars with laughter] That doesn’t prove anything! It’s easy for a clever IT guy to fake the date of a Word document! People do it all the time!

The Writer: But I didn’t do that!

The Film Producer: Prove it.

So the Writer goes away and hires a crack team of IT specialists. They are expensive, but this is the Writer’s life’s work, and he is determined to retrieve it from the clutches of the Film Producer. In fact, the Writer sells his computer, his books and all of his possessions excepting the hair shirt that he keeps for bad days. Eventually, the crack IT specialists, having taken all the Writer’s money, provide him with a short document stating that, in their opinion, with all the usual caveats, the Writer’s Word documents had not been tampered with and were indeed written on the indicated dates.

The Writer returns to the Film Producer. He is particularly uncomfortable with this meeting, because the hair shirt is very itchy.

The Writer: Look, I’ve proved it. I produced the work on which your film was based. You’ve breached copyright.

The Film Producer: So sue me.

The Writer: I can’t. I have no assets except a hair shirt.

The Film Producer: I know.

The above is ©Marc Joan, 2015.
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Actually it reminds me of an old idea on proving it, with a different subject in the form of designs. Take a few pages and fold them up to envelope size, but do NOT use an envelope. Post them to yourself, and don't open (unless you end up needing to prove it). Then you have a legal date stamp, hopefully a clear one. Just a thought.
No, didn't really happen, just part of my ongoing paranoid delusion.

Having said all of that, I do have a half-written screenplay, but I am holding on to it until I find somebody with experience of successfully writing for film /TV, as I am conscious that my script needs a lot of work and I want to collaborate with somebody who knows what they are doing. And now that I think of it, I haven't copyrighted it......
I thought that your name on the bottom of your document pretty much copyrighted it; that what to do if it's breached is the facer. I have a tarot client who's a freelance sales training consultant, who goes in for trademarking key phrases/titles he's coined.
To quote the UK copyright law fact sheet 'Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work.' (see and the same applies in the US. There is no need to pay to have your copyright registered - it's a ripoff. However, it is a good idea to retain the original files of your ms, so you can demonstrate a date if required. Trademarks are a totally different kettle of bananas.
Phew. Thanks, guys. I imagine if I was working in screen plays like Marc Joan, however, I would probably fork over the dough. That scenario scared the bejeezus out of me. All the hard work, blood, sweat and tears and there are just SO many hands involved!
In reading the blog of a successful self-published author I respect, I notice that she recommends that once you finish a book, you fork over the $35 or whatever it is to have your manuscript copywrited.

Is this only something that you do when you self publish? Has anyone else done this? Does it matter if you edit after you do this? Will modifications need to be recopywrited?

Is that even a word? :)

Not sure how it works in Europe, but here in the US your work is copyrighted the minute it hits the paper/screen/parchment, whatever. There is no one or government agency to pay 35$ to. Trademarks can still be bought but that costs significanlty more than 35$ and there are a lot of hooops and forms to fill out.

Novels can not be trademarked BTW.
I've had close to 60 books published now between the three pen names, and I've never paid to have any of them copyrighted. I have also kept the original manuscripts so the dates are there to "prove" when I first wrote it, plus I've kept all my original notes on each series/book idea. That's really all you need to do.
Huh. I wonder what on earth she was talking about, then??? Thank you all! I feel much better. I'll just make sure to keep several dated copies of all my work handy just in case!
A lot of authors believe it's essential to pay to have your book copyrighted. Not sure why that came about other than the proliferation of people stealing others' books right now. Every week it seems we hear of another author who has ripped off someone else's work and passed it off as their own.

Lately, there were a couple of people (at least two I know of) on Amazon who were taking others' books, changing a few names around here and there, slapping a new title and author name on it, and uploading it for sale as their own! They had it up there making money for a while before people caught on. That's the only reason I can think of that the idea of paying to "prove" copyright might have sprung up.

But unless the laws where you live specifically state that registering a copyright is the only way to prove it was yours to begin with, why spend the money if you don't have to? As far I know, the real authors of those books didn't have to produce proof of a registered copyright. But I can see where, if something like this had happened to an author, they might want an extra layer of security in case it happened again.

Still, unless one day the courts decide that registering the copyright is the only legal way to prove the book was yours and when, I'm not going to spend the money. I will, however, make sure my files are always backed up. :)
The real issue at hand that we ought to be discussing is just how many times I spelled COPYRIGHT incorrectly and the fact that all of you were too gracious to call me out on it.

Let's chalk this up to a busy writing week, shall we? Closing in on the end of book two and I'm seeing double...
There's a free forum/networking website, called Stage32. Some while back, a screenwriter there suggested I re-write a short story as a screenplay.

And there's a lot of advice and information here:
Thanks so much. I wasn't aware of this and will check it out. Did you ever rewrite as a screenplay and if so how far did you take it?
No, Marc, though I might. I've logged it as work pending because of the push on the novel. It was this one, you've seen it before, I think, that he suggested I should have a go at screenwriting. It would need special effects. CGI?
There's no doubt that copyright law should protect you from the moment you create a work. The issue, for me, is making the date of creation incontrovertible and permanently assured. Registering with a third party helps you to do that, and at the same time will save you if you lose all your files when the kids try to fry eggs in petrol. Whether or not you think it is worth the money probably depends on your own circumstances and personality type. For me, the additional security conferred by 3p registration is worth it. It wouldn't be worth it if I paid for each individual piece; but I have about 50 completed / in progress works registered under a single title ('collected works', or something) which makes it cost-effective.
Actually posting a small excerpt on facebook would give you a perfect time stamp! :D
Interesting, Marc. I registered my film script but not the books. I didn't realise you could have a bulk cover; will look into. Paranoia rules. Although the copyright exists once written is reassuring, it's the proving it that could be tedious/expensive.
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Fanfare! New LAD with self-published tax resistor David Gross!

I bet this never happened to you.