ESTABLISHING COPYRIGHT FOR YOUR NOVEL
Do you need to? How do you do it?
If you’re looking into self-publishing like I am (in this case while I wait for the results of my latest submission) you’ll be amazed at how many questions crop up as you start to explore your options further. In this case, a few worries about copyright. It took me a couple of hours of digging to find anything approaching the hard facts on-line in a form I was prepared to believe so… for other authors like myself. Here are the main points.
As someone who is thinking of self-publishing in the UK, I’m not going to worry about selling different types of publishing rights, thank heavens, because if I self-publish I’m going to be my publisher and unless (or until) I’m are picked up by a bigger one, all the rights stay with me. Remember to check the small print if you sign up to a POD or distribution sites to make sure of this!
The copyright of your work is yours, from the moment you’ve written it down. This applies to the words you use or at least the way you express your idea (ie people can’t lift passages from your work) your characters, your plot and the way you conclude it.
So for example if you want to quote someone else’s work in your own; song lyrics, poetry, extracts… you have to seek permission from the owner of the copyright, unless you are using a short phrase of about 14 words… In other words, you’d probably get away with quoting “a long time ago in a galaxy far away” without permission but not the whole schpeil of floating letters that comes after it!
General ideas are different, somebody must have come up with the name tractor beam at some point but this has slipped into the language to the extent that most of us could explain what it is, even though it doesn’t actually exist… yet. No permission required for tractor beams to appear in your work, or flying cars, cf whichever Harry Potter it was and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang happily coexisting.
However, I noticed a section of people on forums, info sites, etc were talking about “establishing copyright” of a novel. Now, in the US you have to do this, as I understand it but in the UK and most of the rest of the world you don’t.
Naturally, the next question that came up in my mind was should I do something to officially ‘establish’ my copyright, even though I live in the benign UK/rest of the world (the US is a bit of an anomaly on this one)? So… I looked into it and discovered that there are several ways to establish your authorship just in case it turns out to be a hit – after all, I read somewhere there’s a saying which goes, ‘where there’s a hit there’s a writ’.
- There are people you can e-mail or post your book to who will store it on your behalf to prove you’d written it from well… the day they process it but you need to watch out as this might be as much as several months after you’ve submitted it. Sites such as the Writers’ Copyright Association will do this for you, for a fee (around £60 I believe).
- You can put it in an envelope and deposit it with a bank or a firm of solicitors – recommended by the Society of Authors, that one.
- You can put it in an envelope and post it, making sure it has a legible date franked on it, to yourself; amusingly, that one was recommended by the firm of solicitors I approached after reading the advice from the Society of Authors. Apparently, you can ignore people who say this method doesn’t stand up in court, one of the UK’s leading IP lawyers told me that actually, it will.
- Keep a paper trail, keep the rejections, notes you make, etc. Back up and keep old drafts on your computer and on an external storage device.
Clearly as I am not in the US and any self-publishing I do will be on a shoestring, I think 3 and 4 are my tickets!
For more information on copyright there’s an excellent article on the Writers’ and Aritst’s Yearbook blog here.
Another thing to remember, if you publish a book with an ISBN number in Britain (which you need to do if you want to sell it on Amazon) is to send it to the six Legal Deposit Libraries within a month of publication. This also helps establish you as the original author. The Legal Deposit Libraries are:
- The British Library
- The Bodleian Library
- Cambridge University Library
- The National Library of Scotland
- The National Library of Wales
- The Library of Trinity College Dublin
Well that’s handy, Cambridge isn’t far away, I could drop that one in and yes, clearly, if you have one, your publisher does do a little bit more than print up your book.
That’s very much an ‘in a nutshell’ guide but I hope it’s useful. Apart from the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook blog. Initially, I found absolutely bugger all about any of this on the web that wasn’t specific to the US. I’m hoping this may help other British authors who are researching self-publishing. I’ve done the digging so you don’t have to.
I am looking into ISBNs at the moment, where you get them, how many you need, whether one fits all versions of a novel or whether you need a new ISBN for e-book, audio or revised versions. I’ll post a quick summary of my findings on that when I’ve finished.
Please note, I’m not a lawyer but what I’ve shared here might be enough information to help you ask the right questions. I hope it is useful and if you spot an error, please let me know.