Contrary to popular belief, you are the owner of your original work whether or not you file for a copyright. Unfortunately, if you don’t, it is difficult to prove ownership. Let’s say you’ve written the great American novel. It’s yours. You wrote it, you own it. A plagiarist decides to author a remarkably similar work with a slightly different title. He files for and receives a copyright. You discover his skullduggery and take him to court. You claim that he stole your masterpiece. He claims that any resemblance to your material is coincidental. He has a copyright. You don’t. Good luck.
Play it safe. Copyright everything you create. It’s quite easy to do. There are four basic steps to obtaining a copyright:
1. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website to view a list of classifications. Determine what classification (music, art, literature etc.) your work fits into.
2. Request and fill out the copyright application. This can also be done online and will cost less and take less time to receive your certificate.
3. Print and mail the application along with the registration fee and a copy of your original work (or do it online.) Your work will then be filed with the Library of Congress. Fees vary depending on how your registration is submitted.
4. Sit and wait to receive your certificate of registration. If you file online, the wait is about seven months on average; by mail, the wait is sixteen months on average.
Again, whether you file for a copyright or not, you do own your original work. However, by making it “official” and having your masterpiece filed with the Library of Congress, you are taking the most effective step available to protect yourself against theft. And, it’s not just theft of your entire work. There have been numerous violations of copyright wherein selective passages from one author’s work have turned up in that of another’s. One of the most famous incidents of this sort involved Pulitzer Prize winning author Alex Haley’s 1976 classic, Roots.
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