Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Very bad advice from a publisher who should know better

The following dangerous and naive misinformation was posted on the Facebook page of Peppertree Press, and on the blog of Peppertree boss Julie Ann Howell: "I often get questions from authors about copyright. My favorite way to copyright might sound old fashioned; however... it works. Print out your manuscript and then mail it to yourself and do not open it. Tuck it away in a drawer. It will stand up in a court of law."

It probably won't stand up in an American Court.

The practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” This is not a substitute for official registration and it probably won’t be useful in a lawsuit. It is easily faked by mailing an empty envelope and inserting a document -- even years later.

There is no way to prove when the envelope was sealed.

A publisher should know better. If you book is published by Peppertree, make sure they use the standard method of copyright registration, not Julie Ann's "favorite way."

An ignorant fool even provides visual instructions for achieving non-protection on YouTube.

It is commonly believed that a creative work must be registered with the government to be protected by copyright. That’s not true. Your precious work is legally protected from copycats from the moment of creation without your having to fill out any forms or having to pay even one penny to the Feds. Your work is copyrighted even if you don’t put the © copyright symbol on it.

However, there are still advantages to going through a formal copyright registration, particularly if you end up suing for copyright infringement.

Copyright is a form of protection, grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture, fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a device. That means that what you put on a website or blog is copyrighted.

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, discoveries, systems, or meth­ods of operation, although it may protect the way they are expressed. The YouTube video discusses copyrighting an idea. That's ignorant and irresponsible.

Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one entity and distinguishing them from those of others. A book’s title can’t be copyrighted, but it can sometimes be protected as a trademark.

Copyright registration is voluntary. Many people choose to register their works because they want to have the facts of their copyright as a public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. If registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. Registration within 90 days gives you the most protection.

The fee for filing a copyright application online, using the new electronic Copyright Office (eCO), is just $35. Self-publishing companies often charge much more to get a copyright. CrossBooks charges $204. Schiel & Denver charges $250! It takes less than 15 minutes to register online. The fee is $50 if you register with a paper application.

By custom (not by law), if you publish a book during the last three or four months of the year, you can use a copyright date of the next year. This makes the book seem to be a year fresher as it ages. However, DON’T register it until the year shown in the book.

Copyright Office websitewww.copyright.gov
Electronic Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov/eco/notice.html
Physical Address:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
Phone: 202-707-3000


  1. When I publish my books, I send a final copy of my book to the LOC (as obliged through my PCN membership). The final book has a nice title page with the PCN and the ISBN. Do you think I should send a copy to the Copyright office also?

  2. To Steffan: Since the Copyright Office is part of the LOC, there should be no need to send a second copy. I've never done it, and the LOC has never asked for an additional copy.