Is your novel safe? The Copyright Question.

As many of you know, I am about to send my novel out for the final polishing round of beta-reads.  A few people have asked me, “Is that safe?” or “Are you going to copyright it first?”

The answers to those questions are:  Yes, it is safe, and No, I will not be copyrighting it first.  Let me explain…

I had the same hesitation when I first started sending to Beta Partners a little over a year ago.  I read a few articles that said not to worry about it.  The one I trusted the most was Nathan Bransford, who said there is too much of an electronic trail for anyone to be able to easily steal your work.

Recently, when I had the opportunity to discuss the topic with Best Selling Author Jonathan Mayberry.  He said that many publishers will not even deal with you if you have already copyrighted the work.  (Although Danielle Ackley McPhail admitted to getting her first novel copyrighted first and not having any problem.)

When I was a kid, before the World Wide Web was in everyone’s homes (Wow, did I just date myself)  The way to “Protect Yourself” without actually copyrighting your novel was to get a printed copy, seal it in an envelope, and mail it to yourself.  Then don’t break the seal when you get it.  This way there is an official post mark on it.  This would probably work today.  However, there are easier ways in this new Cyber-Era.  And I am guessing a lot of you don’t know it, but you are already protected.

Jonathan Mayberry pointed out that YOUR HARD DRIVE is admissible as evidence.  Where is your novel stored and date-tagged?  On your hard drive?  Well, lookey there!

You can also simply email your novel to yourself, and then save the email.  Boom!  There’s your date stamp.

Are you worried about your Beta Readers stealing it?  Did you just email it to them?  Guess what?  That email is evidence that it was yours first.  There are just too many electronic data trails out there today to make it easy to steal someone else’s work.

I’ve also protected myself unintentionally by getting my novel printed on-line so my sister could read it. (Just a copy, it was not published)  It was cheaper than going to Kinko’s or using up my toner.  So there is a permanent record on file with that company.

These are all ways you can protect yourself.  You can, of course go for the copyright, but after hearing Jonathan’s comment that some publishers will not look at you if you are copyrighted, I’d be cautious (maybe check the requirements of some publishers, first)

If you do copyright, be prepared that you will have to “re-copyright” once your actual final draft is approved by your publisher.  Anyone who thinks their novel is so perfect that there will be no changes at all is just being foolish.

Note:  You might want to be careful if the publisher copyrights for you, to make sure that you still own the copyright.  If you will not, make sure you and your lawyers are comfortable with that agreement.

If you are self-publishing, you need to make a choice.  I think I’d copyright before I self-published.  It’s easy to do, and doesn’t really cost that much.  You also don’t have to wait to hear back from them.  You are good to go as soon as you hit the submit button.

Disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer, and I am in no way qualified to give legal advice.  These are just my opinions based off what professionals I have met (or read) have offered as advice.  If you have any real concerns, talk to your agent or lawyer.

Hope you find this helpful!

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14 responses to “Is your novel safe? The Copyright Question.

  1. I don’t know if UK law is different but everything is automatically copyrighted over here. I think having it stored or emailing yourself would be easy protection too.

    • In theory, everything is here in the States, too. However, the burdern of proof is on the author if someone steals your work. The official copyright is the “do all” protection mark from the government.

  2. I think that people worried about others stealing their writing is a bit — I’m sorry if I offend anyone — immature. If someone is getting others to fix it up, it probably won’t be accepted by any publisher (but they knew that already). The stealers would have to extensively re-work the piece. In all, they’d have to put in a LOT of hard work to have it published as their own.

    So the relevant question writers should remind themselves of is this: real writers who have enough determination to publish quality writing just DON’T steal off others. I’m a thrill seeker in my writing. If I had to steal someone else’s writing, it’d defeat the purpose of having something I WROTE in a book.

    No gratification there.

    Plus, there’s the obvious, as you pointed out: it’s saved on YOUR hard-drive, USB, etc, first!

    Great post, Jennifer!

    • I think when a lot of people start out, there is always that old-school fear. It’s legitamate in that they’ve worked hard, and don’t want their work lost. The chances of it happening are slim.

      If anyone is still really scared after reading all of this… copyright. It will give you peace of mind.

      • A writer’s novel/novella/short story is automatically copyrighted to them the moment they create it. Actively seeking/buying a copyright would be like putting another layer of nail polish over a manicure.

        All writers need to do, if they are worried, is put the copyright symbol with their name and year on their work and that’s copyrighted properly to them.

        But a warning: agents/publishers don’t really like this because it makes a writer look amateurish and it’s unnecessary.

  3. Always a topic of discussion at my writers conferences. Thanks for the info. I have digital copies of my WIP dating back ten years (I’m slow). Hopefully, that’s enough.

  4. Great advice Jennifer. I did research on this a while ago and also came up with the same result.

  5. Not a lawyer, not a lawyer, not a lawyer.

    Copyright is automatic. Registering the copyright is what allows you to receive compensation for stolen work. Otherwise all you get to say is stop copying me.

    You don’t have to recopyright changes–derivative work, read new version, is protected in the original copyright.

    Not a lawyer, not a lawyer, not a lawyer.

    • Jonathan Mayberry did mention that you’d still have to “fight it” if your work was stolen, and it would be a long hard battle. Of course, you still would have to fight it even if you had the official copyright.

      The point is, that there is too much of a digital trail now… that is is harder than ever to try to steal someone elses work.

      I was told somewhere along the line that you’d need to re-copyright if you made significant changes, but I didn’t research to see if that is ture or not. What Robin said may be correct.

      As Robin said, protecting herself like I did…
      NOT A LAWYER, NOT A LAWYER, NOT A LAWYER

      Thanks, Robin!

  6. Shelley Szajner

    Glad to know this, Jennifer! Sadly, though, I copyrighted my manuscript after I completed the third draft because I thought that was the safest thing for me to do. Hopefully, it won’t be a problem with an editor, but if it is, I will just keep shopping around. I’ll know better next time. Thanks for the tip!

    • You are always the safest if you copyright. I copyrighted my first novel as well. There are publishers out there who have no problem with it. Like I said, Danielle Ackley-McPhail copywrighted, and she has several novels under her belt now. It just depends on the publisher.

  7. Just the question I was wondering about! I was kind of thinking along those lines (email, hard drive, etc) but it’s great to hear someone else agree.

    • Just remember, the copyright is the do-all “I own it” banner. If you don’t have it, your would still need to prove that the work is yours. It is just easier now than it was twenty years ago to prove something is yours.

  8. FANTASTIC post Jennifer. Thanks for that.