Thursday, January 29, 2015

Copyright Tips and Myths - Abridged

Mister McCandless,
I see you've written a novel.
Going into the finer points of copyright law and protection is a lot like exfoliating with a cheese grater—sure it gets the job done, but there are better tools for the job that don’t leave you bloody.

To start, you should go to the source—the United States Copyright Office.  They have handy FAQs that link to more detailed information and even the laws themselves, if you’re so inclined.  After that, if you’re still confused, consult an copyright attorney.

For a quick-and-dirty understanding here are some simple rules:

1 - The moment you put your creative ideas into fixed media (either words on a page, or digital file) you have a copyright.  Nothing else is needed.

2 - Copyright with the US Copyright Office will extend you additional protections IF you think you're going to need to file suit.

3 - Filing a copyright on a submission provides only minor additional protection. If you have to do healthy rewrites, which most agents/publishers will require, you’ll render the original copyright useless.

3a - No reputable agent or publisher will steal your work anyhow. That's why they're reputable.

Understand what an agent or a publisher is looking for—you.  Your work is an extension of your ability as a storyteller, and it’s how YOU tell the story that matters.  Your ideas don’t have to be
A good story?  As you wish!
overly original for the story to be entertaining (although, it can help).  What is required is a good story well-told.  Agents and publishers want to sell books, the more the better, and if you’re a good storyteller, there’s a higher chance that you’ll write additional books along the same line that will also sell.  Stealing an unknown author’s work is short-term gain (if gain at all) versus long-term loss.

But the most original idea won’t carry a poorly written book.  In some cases, originality is only a riff on existing tropes.  That’s why genre exists.  It tells the reader that you’re most likely to find sword-swinging barbarians and scantily clad warrior-queens under the “Fantasy” moniker, because certain elements are expected of certain genres.

I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing.


  1. I fully agree with you about the nature of copyright. And the fact that scantily clad warrior-queens belong under the Fantasy moniker with sword-swinging barbarians. At least I try to include them in my books. --Glenn Lazar Roberts

    1. Well done Glenn! You're doing fantasy right!