Thursday, June 07, 2007

About the Internet and Copyright Law (originally posted on CraftGossip 6/5/07)

Commenting on this post, a reader wrote:
Just because you wrote some thing doesn’t mean it’s copyrighted. You have to file for a copyright through the Library of Congress and have a copyright number for there to be any copyright infringement.

I hope your legal team tells you that.
This reader is wrong, of course. If she were a lawyer or had asked her own legal team, they would have told her so in order that she not come across as misinformed.

As I explained:

You are incorrect. According to the US Copyright Office, copyright exists from the moment the work is created. Registration is recommended, but not required. Additionally, expect to see the recommendation for registration to change due to the Internet. The world is a different place now, and the laws must change right along with it. But the definition of what is theft will NOT change.

Copyright law has been the way it is now for some time.

Back when I finally finished writing my master's thesis in 1998, I did not have to file for a Certificate of Registration in order for my thesis to be copyrighted. In fact, all the time I had been writing my thesis (I started writing in ... 1992), even before it was finished, even before it was published, even before it was read by any of my professors, even before it was read by any other individual at all, it was copyrighted. That's because copyright covers unpublished works as well as published ones.

If I keep a diary intended for no one's eyes but mine, it is copyrighted, and I own the copyright.

I DID file for that Certificate of Registration on my master's thesis, though, just because I wanted the nice piece of paper from the Library of Congress. I'll admit I was more easily convinced to part with the registration fee because, should I ever need to go to court if someone steals my original work and claims it as their own, I wanted that piece of paper as proof. That will make the court case EASIER, but it wasn't REQUIRED. The copyright always existed, it always belonged to ME, and anyone who might try to pass off my work as their own is STEALING.

By the way, it sure is a good thing copyright exists from the time the work is created. Here is a story about red tape. I mailed my application and the required fees in April of 1998. I finally received my Certificate of Registration from the Library of Congress in March of 2000 -- and the Effective Date of Registration is stamped January 14, 1999. So the Library of Congress wasn't all that behind in processing the Certificate of Registration, but they were well over a year behind in mailing their outgoing mail.

Can you imagine the implications to the needlework industry if copyright weren't actually in effect the whole time? My, my, that could present quite a conundrum, couldn't it? Imagine all the unhappy needlework designers unable to release their new designs until they finally received their Certificates of Registration ... Think of all the shops who would have no new designs coming in to offer their customers ... All of us stitchers would have nothing new to tickle our fancies. Good grief, we might all have to stop with the retail therapy! We might actually be stuck with just stitching!! Or, gulp, even stuck doing something else, like reading, or sleeping, or WORKING!!! It gives me nightmares just thinking about it. Thank goodness for copyright. Whew!

So, yes, everything I write is copyrighted from the second I write it. Period. It's the law. Buckle up, be grateful, and keep your hands inside the car at all times. Thank you, and enjoy the ride!

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