You’ve spent weeks, or months, or longer, writing and polishing your baby. You love it, and you hate it, and you just want to hit the “publish” button, or sign your name, and be done!
Whoa. Slow down. Because the shit’s about to get serious.
You haven’t read the Terms of Agreement on the website, have you? How about the contract you signed?
I mean READ. Every single word. Do not skim. If you don’t understand something, look it up, or ask.
Do you know what your rights are?
Do you know how to protect yourselves from copyright infringement? From disreputable publishers (only a tiny fraction, thank heavens)?
This is not play, folks.
I don’t care how pretty the website is, when you hit “submit” or you sign, you are making a legal agreement, enforceable in court, concerning something you’ve spent weeks or months sweating over, and if you don’t read the fine print – ALL the fine print – you might end up losing your rights to this story forever.
So, here’s some basic information. DO NOT TRUST ME – READ THE SOURCES. I am in the US, so if you are not, please google the info for your own country.
(N.B – I tried to establish a clear definition of author vs. publisher vs. book distribution platform. The terms are used so interchangeably I could not. Sometimes an author works with a publisher. Sometimes the author is a publisher. Sometimes the publisher is the book distribution platform. Even Amazon uses the terms interchangeably.)
How do I get a copyright on my book?
For the love of all things author-y, please read this! It’s written in plain English.
US government copyright FAQ’s
In a nutshell:
- According to the Berne convention which 180+ countries have signed, an author who puts her thoughts in a fixed medium (paper, computer screen) owns the copyright as soon as the words are put down. Yes, you own the copyright on that first draft that isn’t published. You even own the copyright on the notes you scribbled on a McDonald’s napkin.
- You do not own the rights to the idea of the story, though – just because you thought of a great plot involving a were-whale and a mermaid doesn’t mean someone else can’t write a story about them, too.
- YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ANYTHING EXCEPT WRITE IT DOWN, TO OWN THE COPYRIGHT.
OK, so I own the copyright. Is that all I have to do?
Well, there is a lot of disagreement on that. Many people recommend you take the extra step to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office. It costs $35 at this time for a single work, and can be done online.
- If you do not have it registered, you cannot sue in court.
- If you register it within 3 months of publication, or before someone infringes the work, you are eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
- If you wait to register it after someone infringes your copyright, you can sue, but you will only get actual damages.
- Do I have to use my real name? No. The information is a public record, but you are allowed to use a pen name to register the copyright. Please see the link for specific details on that.
- Do I need the copyright symbol to have it protected? No, but it’s a good idea.
Can I mail a copy to myself, so the date shows on the envelope, to show proof of my ownership (“poor man’s copyright”)
No, No, No. The US Gov’t website states that clearly. It is not a legally recognized way to show proof of copyright and means nothing in court.
Does the publisher own my copyright?
Probably not, but you need to read your contract. Most reputable publishers/distributors do not require you to give up your copyright. For example, my publishing contract states I am granting them exclusive rights to sell the work (I can’t sell anywhere else) but there is no statement about transferring my copyright.
If a publisher declares bankruptcy, do I get my rights back?
- A contract may have a clause that says in the event of bankruptcy all rights immediately revert to the author, but that’s for the courts to decide, not the publisher/distributor.
- Author’s works are sometimes considered assets, and the remainder of your contract could be sold to another publisher/distributor as part of the settlement no matter what the contract says.
- At the very least, you could be prohibited from doing anything with your work while the whole mess is tied up in court.
Does Amazon own my copyright?
“KDP Terms and conditions” Section 6:
“Ownership and Control of Amazon Properties/ Feedback. Subject to the authorizations you grant to us under this Agreement, as between us and you, you retain all ownership rights in and to the copyrights and all other rights and interest in and to your Digital Books.”
Does ARe own my copyright?
For authors who used ARe as a platform to sell, no. ARe does own selling rights.
These are the terms of agreement you agreed to when you uploaded the book. (Please note that here, the “publisher” is defined at the top of the page as the person uploading the book, i.e. the author.)
ARe’s rights to sell:
3 (h) Publisher [author] hereby grants All Romance the rights to reproduce, display, market, and store digital versions of Publisher’s [Author’s] Works on one or more computer facilities of or under the leased or similar control of All Romance on a worldwide basis, and to resell Publisher’s [Author’s] Works directly to consumers;
(i) To promote sales for Publisher’s [Author’s] Works, Publisher [Author] grants All Romance the right to distribute any and all content electronically including text, cover art, and metadata associated with Publisher’s [Author’s] Works.
ARe does not own the copyright:
4.(b) Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, All Romance acknowledges that all rights, title and interest in and to all intellectual property comprising the Works, including copyrights and trademarks used in connection with the Works, are the property of Publisher [Author] or its licensor(s), and in no event, including upon the termination of this Agreement, shall All Romance obtain any rights, title or interest in such intellectual property, copyrights or trademarks.
I understand ARe did some publishing, as well, where authors signed contracts like with a traditional publisher? I don’t have access to that info and don’t know anything about it. Read your contract, please! 🙂
~ ~ ~
Any one of us can be caught off guard by something happening, even if we do know our rights, and there’s a certain amount of trust that has to go into any business agreement. But we need to know the basics of our rights before we can insist on having them upheld.
Edited on Oct. 9, 2017, to clarify some sentences.