Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Protecting Your Writing with IP Law

Protecting Your Writing with IP Law
  Article by Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene correspondent  Tori Lutz

Whether you are a casual writer or an aspiring author, it’s important to make sure your original work and ideas is protected through intellectual property (IP) law.  

Preventing others from stealing your work is a major part of the craft since having those rights ensures that you will receive any credit or potential profit that results from your creativity and labor.

Luckily, the law is on your side. Copyright law does a great job at protecting original artwork for any artistic expression, even before you’ve officially registered anything.

Here are the main things you should know about protecting your writing with IP law and why it should matter to you!

Copyright Law

There are four main areas of IP law, and copyrights cover the area of original artwork (including writing).

Copyrights give the respective owner the exclusive right to reproduction and distribution of copies of the protected work. They also grant exclusive rights to derivative versions of the work and performance/display of the work in a public setting.

Works of authorship that can be protected by copyrights include:

  • Musical works
  • Lyrics
  • Literary works
  • Dramatic works
  • Motion pictures
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

One of the best parts of copyright law is that it does fall under common law, meaning a work doesn’t need to be registered for you to be able to hold infringing parties accountable. As long as there is proof that it existed in the open before the infringement, you have rights.

That said, there are still benefits to registering the copyright. Registering is required to be able to actually sue the infringing party and hold them legally accountable, so it’s still in your best interest to make things official.

Copyrights are registered at the federal level through the Library of Congress and last 70 years after the end of the author’s life (after which they are typically passed on to family or individuals specified in the author’s will).

Risks of Unprotected Manuscripts

In addition to the right to sue infringing parties, there are other benefits to officially protecting your manuscripts and making sure you are genuinely careful with them. Adversely, there are also risks to failing to do so.

J.D. Houvener, a Los Angeles patent attorney, has seen plenty of unfortunate disasters for entrepreneurs, artists and inventors who didn’t protect their work:

“Patents are particularly critical since they don’t fall under common law, but there have been many unfortunate cases regarding copyrights and trademarks as well. The problem with original writing or other artwork is that even though common law will protect it without registration or official release of your work, it can be difficult finding proof. If someone overhears your ideas or stumbles upon your notes, they could easily get away with stealing them. It may sound crazy, but it happens.”

That said, there will always be points in your creative process where you aren’t ready to register your work yet. Perhaps it’s still in the planning stages or maybe there is a lot that you are about to change.

Really, everything at this point in the creative process boils down to trust. Know who in your circle is trustworthy with your ideas if you want to get feedback. Make sure you find a trustworthy editor and publisher who won’t take advantage of you.

Ultimately, don’t share your ideas with any and everyone you encounter, at least not until you are secured and protected.

Copyrighting Unfinished Work

To speak more in-depth on the area of unfinished work and manuscripts, it’s important to note that registering copyrights for work in this stage is premature, especially since having your work ripped off before it is public is a rare problem to have.

Copyrights don’t exist to protect the essence of an idea, they exist to protect the expression. This means that it isn’t your idea about a school of magic that is being protected, but rather the book or film that ultimately expresses that idea.

As any artist will know, ideas change and evolve over time. Final drafts are rarely just polished versions of the first draft, and there are many instances in which it ends up having enormous changes that result in a completely different story/product.

Basically, it’s mostly important to just be careful and conscious of your work in its earlier stages (as mentioned earlier). When you have a finished manuscript that is ready for a copyright, definitely make sure to jump on it! Until then, keep on revising and adding to it first.

In Summary

By understanding the basics of IP law (especially copyright law), you’re much closer to being able to successfully protect your writing, both published and unpublished.

It is absolutely vital for writers to understand the importance of protecting their work, especially since it is entirely on the owner of a copyright to hold infringing parties accountable and actually make sure their rights are upheld.

So go out there and get back to writing, but make sure you keep it protected!

******  A graduate of Florida State University, Katherine (Tori) Lutz is a Florida native currently living in Brooklyn, New York.  She is a graduate student in journalism at Columbia University in NYC.
Her work has been published on platforms like USAToday, the Tallahassee Democrat, Altitude Group Inc., and others. She has contributed a breaking news story that ranked as the top viewed article on USAToday for 3 days, served as the sole resource for the Tallahassee Democrat and USAToday network at the 2017 Richard Spencer event at the University of Florida, and stayed on top of on-going coverage of Hurricane Irma.

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