As a writer, you’d think I’d know the ins-and-outs of copyright law, especially considering the recent brouhaha over the Games Workshop trademark infringement case. Other than knowing that what I write is protected under U.S. copyright law the second I put it on paper, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I know very little beyond that, which is more than a little worrisome…especially now. So the timing of Ken Liu’s article on the SFWA website couldn’t have been better. (You might recognize Ken’s name because he’s a Hugo and Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning author, but he also happens to be lawyer.)
In his article “The Benefits of Copyright Registration,” Ken offers advice on whether you need to register your copyright under U.S. law, what protections registration affords you, and the costs/benefits of registering your work. While registration is not required under U.S. law, I wasn’t aware of the additional protections that are gained through registering a copyright—specifically the shifting of the burden of proof in an infringement case from the copyright holder to the offending party, and the way in which “damages” can be determined.
Considering this, why wouldn’t I register all of my work? Well, the cost of registration is not a trivial thing, especially since my back catalog has expanded to 20+ published works of fiction. Under the current registration fee, that equates to over US$700! And that doesn’t include my numerous unpublished pieces that are making the rounds (although these would likely be cheaper to register). Granted, at this early stage of my career, I’m not likely to lose much if someone were to infringe on my copyright, but who knows how well my next published story will do? Or the one after that. Prudence suggests registering my works, and perhaps I will take another look at my catalog and register some of them. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but thanks to Ken, I now have the information to make a more informed decision.
Great post! One alternative could be to copyright all of your short stories as a single collection to save money: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/faq.html#eCO_1.5
Of course, that just applies to unpublished works. But the good news about the published works is that since they’ve made a “public appearance,” you have a record of the fact that they’re yours, so the burden of proof issue isn’t too pressing.
I’m considering doing just this with my currently unpublished stories making the rounds. I think once per year I could submit a “collection” for registration, which would likely capture most of work before it’s published. Unfortunately, registering my existing catalog of published stories looks to be cost prohibitive, but at least I can take some comfort knowing they’ve made a “public appearance,” which as you note, would make it easier to meet the burden of proof in an infringement case.