All Decent Editors Will Assume That The Copyright Belongs To You

Do I have to register all my articles with the U.S. Copyright Office? No. “All original work is automatically entitled to copyright protection the instant it’s produced and saved in any tangible kind (on paper, on disk, on canvas, on film),” says publishing attorney Daniel Steven. You don’t need to register it. Also, if your article is published to a copyrighted magazine, your article will be covered under their copyright.

Before your article is published, you may want to protect yourself by having a record of when you wrote it. Your word processing program may automatically “date-stamp” your documents (there will be a “created on” or “last edited on” date embedded in the document’s description). You can also save your articles to disk, organizing articles by month and/or year. If it’s important to you, you can register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office. The forms are available online: www.loc.gov/copyright/forms.

You should be able to use Short Form TX, available for download as a .pdf file. As of this writing, the charge for registration is $20. You do not have to pay a separate fee for each article; instead, you can register a collection of your work (several articles, stories, poems, etc.) together for one copyright registration and one fee.

Some writers select to register groups of their articles twice a year or so. A couple of from the editors I’ve spoken with say it annoys them when a writer submits some thing with a copyright notice on it. It’s almost like proclaiming, “Hey, editor, I don’t trust you and want you to see that you cannot steal this piece simply because it is mine, all mine!”

All decent editors will assume that the copyright belongs to you. The only time you should include a copyright notice is when you’re publishing something on the Web. It discourages would-be plagiarizers from claiming they thought your work was in the public domain.

How does copyright protect my ideas?

It does not. Suggestions aren’t subject to copyright. You cannot copyright an idea, a title, a thought, or a concept. You are able to only copyright the written or recorded kind of that concept. What does this mean to you? Nicely, it means that an editor can legally use suggestions you’ve presented in a query. She cannot, nevertheless, use your words. She can’t plagiarize the manner in which you have executed your ideas. So, if you’ve pitched a story about surfing in the Bahamas, and then see an article in the magazine a few months from now about surfing within the Bahamas, you cannot cry “foul.”

If that article contains excerpts from your query, uses the exact same resources, or is simply a thin rewording of the exact same pitch you sent, then you have a situation. Your have a number of choices at this point. You can write to the editor and publisher, stating your case and demanding compensation and a written correction with your byline in the next issue. If this isn’t satisfactory, you can take the situation to Little Claims Court.

This is slightly tricky, though the magazine must either be based in the exact same state as you reside, or it must be distributed there. You might also file your grievance using the National Writers Union if you’re a member (www.nwu.org). They have many well-trained volunteers on board who can advise you for free, and write letters towards the publisher on your behalf.

Finally, if you truly believe your case is iron-tight, you can hire a lawyer. Obviously, you’ll have to consider the expense of legal fees, and weigh this against what you stand to gain.

Kyle F. owns an article directory called ArticleImput that will accept your articles for publishing.

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