Aug 14 2010

What Authors Should Know About Copyright (and Defeating Plagiarists)

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1.  What do I need to do to copyright my work?
Nothing, if you’re an American, Australian, BrazilianBritish, Canadian or Irish author. Your work is automatically protected by copyright as soon as you write it. You don’t need to register your work or do anything else to copyright it.


However, if you wish to sue somebody for copyright infringement, you’ll probably need to pay a small fee to register your copyright with your national copyright office first ($35 in the United States).  I’d recommend leaving that to your publisher, because suing somebody is almost always impractical before you get published.  There are more cost-effective ways of defending your work and/or dealing with plagiarism than spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer.

2. I haven’t been published yet and can’t afford a lawyer. What should I do if I’m plagiarized?
If the plagiarist has published your work either professionally or with a vanity publisher: Write the editor/publisher and explain that you’ve been plagiarized. If the plagiarist was brazen, copying sentences with few changes, sending the editor an electronic draft from a few years ago or a copy of the notes you gathered while writing the story should be sufficient.  If the plagiarism is subtle (“I worked on a concept just like that!”), it’ll be hard to prove that you got ripped off.  So many books get published every year that a lot of them share similar concepts.  Of all the places the alleged plagiarist could have gotten an idea, an unpublished manuscript is rather low on the list.


If the plagiarist has wrongfully posted your work on a well-trafficked website: Contacting an administrator and/or moderator on the website will probably suffice.  (Most sites have a contact form, and some even specifically list copyright queries on their list of most common topics.  For example, if you’re contacting DeviantArt about plagiarism, file it under “Copyright and Etiquette”).


If the plagiarist has posted your work on a personal website that no one reads: You can contact the web-hosting service, which may remove the offending website.  Failing that, you may wish to contact Google to let them know that your content is the original (because Google’s search algorithms discriminate against duplicated content).  Besides that, I wouldn’t worry about this, because it’s too much work for too little benefit.


3. My professionally published work got plagiarized.  What should I do?
Publishers are usually pretty zealous about protecting their work.  Bring the plagiarism to the attention of your editor. Depending on the publisher’s resources and level of concern, the publisher may threaten (or even file) a lawsuit, which is usually effective.  If the publisher doesn’t care, it’s probably not a problem.


4. I have been self-published.  What should I do if I’m plagiarized?
Your publisher won’t provide any legal assistance because its relationship with you ended as soon as it cashed your check and printed your copies.  See #2.


5. Do I need to worry about patents?

Unless you’re an inventor, no.  Creative works are protected by copyrights.  (Also, titles are covered by trademarks, but you can talk that over with your publisher).


Disclaimer: I am neither a lawyer nor a ninja.  If at all possible, speak to an attorney experienced in publishing law. Or a ninja.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “What Authors Should Know About Copyright (and Defeating Plagiarists)”

  1. NicKennyon 15 Aug 2010 at 8:35 am

    For no. 1. What if you’re Irish?

  2. B. Macon 15 Aug 2010 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for the question! I’ve added Irish authors to the list. In Ireland, copyright automatically takes effect and there is no procedure for registration.

  3. Steton 15 Aug 2010 at 3:05 pm

    What I always tell people is, what copyright means is you can spend $10,000 suing somebody.

    Frankly, the biggest problem in my career is that nobody wants to read my stuff, not that somebody wants to steal it.

  4. Angelaon 09 Jan 2011 at 1:02 am

    Wait, does this count if you’re under 18?

  5. B. Macon 09 Jan 2011 at 11:23 am

    Yes, Angela. Copyright protection applies regardless of age.

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