Stealing text, stories, whole books and images from the Internet is so easy a child could do it.
When I was lecturing in script-writing I was frequently disappointed in the amount of students who would download material from the net and submit it as their own work.
Some of them actually claimed that it was okay to take stuff from the Internet because, ‘well, it’s the Internet – everything’s free!’
This attitude is indicative of a growing culture where many feel that anything on the Internet is there for the taking.
It isn’t and stealing from the Internet is still theft.
Still, the thieving continues to thrive and as I began developing my own websites I have seen my own articles and images ripped off many times.
More alarmingly, I also see my books, in their entirety, displayed on ‘library websites’ and available to members for ‘free download.’
The cost of these ‘free downloads’ may be the downloading of viruses and hacking software.
You can be giving access to criminals who will hack your personal details and end up costing you a great deal of money.
As for the originators of this material, the writers, you and me. Well, we are not being paranoid when we worry about copyright protection. This is a real problem and it’s getting worse.
OUR WRITING IS OUR PROPERTY
Our writing is our intellectual property.
It is not a tangible property like a lamp or necklace.
Intellectual property is the stories, ideas etc. which are expressed in the work.
When we sell our books to readers, they may own the book, but they do not own the story, or ideas within.
The ideas and stories belong to the writers. This is our intellectual property.
WHAT DOES INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CONSIST OF?
When you sell your work to a publisher what you are selling is actually a bundle of rights.
These rights consist of the right to publish in book form, or as eBooks, the right to publish in different languages, the right to publish in different countries, the right to sell to radio, television, audio and film etc.
Imagine your book as a large cake cut into many slices. What you are selling is slices of this – not the whole.
If you are negotiating a contract with a publisher all these rights are sliced up and can be sold separately.
Many writers, in the first flush of excitement at receiving a contract, sign away all these rights.
Publishers sometimes tell writers that they have a ‘standard contract’ which all writers sign.
They say this in such a way as to minimize the importance of what you are signing away and to give the writer the impression that every writer published by them signs all these rights away. This is not true.
NO SUCH THING AS A STANDARD CONTRACT
Everything is up for negotiation. When my novel Piggy Monk Square was published my publisher produced a ‘standard contract.’
When I read the contract and realized the extent of what I was giving them I knew I had to get an agent.
I had no experience in negotiating book rights. But having written for radio, television and film I really wanted to hold on to these particular rights.
Any process of negotiation produces losses and gains on both sides.
I held on tight to my film, television and radio rights but lost a little on the other rights in return.
This worked out very well for me as Piggy Monk Square was later optioned for film and radio.
Piggy Monk Square was also licensed to another company for audio adaptation.
Licensing like this is different from selling the rights.
Under these terms all the audio company was allowed to do was produce an audio version of the book.
To clarify, licensing this one right, the audio right, meant the audio company was not allowed reproduce my novel in any other form such as paperback or Ebook etc.
Licensing like this is also limited to a negotiable number of years.
For years writers and artists have signed away rights that they could have held onto. They they have lost out dearly.
Famously the Rolling Stones don’t have the rights to their song, ‘Satisfaction.’
Carrie Fisher signed away the rights to her own image – so didn’t earn a penny from all those Carrie Fisher Star Wars dolls.
HOW DO YOU ENSURE COPYRIGHT PROTECTION FOR YOUR BOOKS.
Copyright is the bundle of rights that comes into existence the minute you create your work.
However, to make future verification easier, many writers choose to register their work.
This is entirely voluntary, your rights exist anyway, but if your rights are infringed the legal process will be easier if your intellectual property is registered.
In the United States you can register your work for a fee, which covers copyright infringement in other countries covered under various conventions, including the UK and Ireland.
There is a full list of countries covered on the Copyright.gov site
At the time of writing the registration fee is $55 and you can register online.
Remember that whether you decide to register your work or not, you still own the copyright.
Registration just makes it easier to identify the work as yours should problems arise.
I hope this article has simplified the issue of copyright protection for you. For more detailed information there is a great question and answer section on Copyright.gov
Best of luck with your writing.
P.S. Like all the writing tips and information on this site, this article on copyright protection is free for writers to read.
All I ask is that you please leave a comment in the box and like, or share so that others may learn too.