Thursday, February 25, 2010

Protect your IP

E-mail is copyrighted as soon as it is sent or saved.

All the talk of Google and copyright infringement got me thinking about a worry many writers have -- Will our work be stolen? As an intellectual property (IP) consultant, we usually don't do a lot of copyright work -- mainly patents and trademarks. As an author, who's created a piece of IP in the form of a book, I knew that my work was  protected once I wrote it down. So copyright protection for a work begins when the work is fixed in some sort of "tangible form." This included writing, typing to paper, and saving it on a computer, but here it is in detail, courtesy of SFWA:

According to the Berne Convention (the international source for copyright law), an original expression is protected by copyright as soon as it is fixed in tangible form. In other words, the moment the words leave your brain and land on paper or the computer screen, you’re protected, and no further action–including registration–is required. The term of copyright guaranteed by Berne is the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years.

Specific copyright laws vary among the more than 90 countries that are signatory to Berne. In the USA, for instance, copyright applies to economic rights only, and the moral rights provisions enacted in other nations, intended to help protect the personality and reputation of the author, don’t exist. Many countries have also extended the term of copyright–in the USA and much of Europe, the term is the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years.

Berne ensures copyright protection without requiring any formalities (such as copyright registration) as a prerequisite to bringing an infringement suit. As a result, most countries have no formal copyright registration process. If you’re a US or Canadian writer, do you need to register? If you’re submitting book-length work to literary agents or publishers, the answer is no. Registration confers no additional copyright protection; all it does is give you legal standing to sue for infringement. But infringement is not something you need to worry about at the submission stage. Theft of unpublished work is so rare as to be functionally nonexistent.

In the USA, there are a number of online services that will register copyright for you with the US Copyright Office, for a fee. You can even purchase software that provides you with addresses and copyright forms. Don’t waste your money–it isn’t difficult to register copyright yourself, and it will cost you a good deal less than the services (currently, registration costs between $35 and $65, depending on whether you register online or on paper). For freelancers and others wanting to register more than one piece, the US Copyright Office offers a multiple-registration option.
So don't worry... your work in protected!

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