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by
Kathy Shaidle

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March 19, 2013 - 7:00 am
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When I was starting out as a professional writer, taking workshops or just chatting around the cafeteria table, the question was a sure sign that you had an amateur on your hands:

“But what if an editor steals my stuff?”

These same newbies were more obsessed with where and how they should type their “© by…”  line than they were with writing something steal-able.

“Copyright is automatic,” I’d sniff smugly, longing to add, “Believe me, you have nothing to worry about.”

Of course, in those days, the IBM Selectric was the most advanced “word processor” available.

Email hadn’t been born and the Internet was in diapers.

You mailed your article to your editor, maybe even couriered it — or faxed it if the publication was particularly fancy.

Today, editors (and bloggers and other writers) do steal your stuff, because it’s so easy, and because notions of right and wrong are in flux.

At the same time, thanks to the same technology that makes theft so commonplace, copyright law has become harder to understand.

If you’re a writer, however, you have to at least try.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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An underappreciated crucial aspect of First Amendment law in the U.S. is the restriction of libel suits by general public figures (like little man mayor Bloomberg) and "limited" public figures.

In particular, many Canadians and Brits blithely assume that U.S. libel laws must be roughly similar in pernicious effect to those in their home countries. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Libel law in the U.S. is the Hound of the Baskervilles - it DOESN'T bark. Indeed, some states such as New York and California have strict laws so citizens sued abroad of libel can countersue in their home states.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
sued abroad *for libel
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not being a pr*ck is the first rule in making use of others ideas and work. Credit should be given where credit is due, and if it should not and the reason is understandable, then be forgiving.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For the knowledge-challenged, the relevant section of the Copyright Law is found in Section 411(a):

§ 411 . Registration and civil infringement actions

(a) Except for an action brought for a violation of the rights of the author under section 106A(a), and subject to the provisions of subsection (b), no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Bringing back dueling has always appealed to the romantic in me (my husband's grandfather perished in a duel in Alabama) but think of the uproar among the gun haters in Washington.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As it is now, a billionaire can say most anything and get away with it. He knows his army of lawyers, a donation or two, will get his out of any difficulties. Being challenged to a duel put the nameless poor man on par with the rich gentleman. If either refused the contest, it looked bad. So people watched what they said, unless they were willing to back their words with action.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is unfortunate that we have a Canadian writing about copyright in an America-based blog, as there are significant differences between American and Canadian copyright. Chief among these is that registration of copyright is, as I understand it, wholly voluntary in Canada, whereas in the United States a domestic copyright is UNENFORCEABLE unless it is registered, and the copyright holder loses significant remedies if the registration is not done prior to infringement.

Beyond that, the author has sacrificed substance for chirpiness, with the result that she confusedly conflates copyrights, defamation, and trademarks without saying anything much of substance about any of them.

What she does say is mostly wrong---or, at best, superficial and largely misinformed. She has fallen hook, line and sinker for the specious argument that "copyright restricts the public domain" and that this supposed restriction is a drag upon creativity rather than a stimulant of it. She has fallen for the cheap anti-copyright propaganda of a humor-magazine piece breathlessly retailing supposed "hypocrisies."

It is true that creatives in general, and particularly those whose work appears primarily online, need to know something about copyright. They will not find it here.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
buzzsawmonkey, in general Kathy does not really address those kinds of technical differences. Sadly, your attempt to help is harmful because you are confusing the issue yourself.

Registration in the US is a good idea, but lack of registration before infringement only reduces the remedies, it does not make the copyright unenforceable (as a result of the US joining the Berne Convention three decades ago). One does have to register prior to litigation in the US, which is not difficult to do.

Your comment would have led to people feeling the need to rush off and start filing uneconomical copyright registrations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People have sued and won with registering works with the library of congress. Such as screen writers, directors, producers, music artist, songwriters, composers, cartoon artist.... have been sued by the original Author and Authors have won. A work is copyright from the day you finish a piece of what ever. and if the Author has proof it was his work he doesn't need a registration at the library of congress to prove it. Just saying.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
registering is only an added protection.

but who is to say someone in who register a "same works" claiming to be the author of what ever was not the author. The real Author could sue.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People have sued and won withOUT registering works with the library of congress. Such as screen writers, directors, producers, music artist, songwriters, composers, cartoon artist.... have been sued by the original Author and Authors have won. A work is copyright from the day you finish a piece of what ever. and if the Author has proof it was his work he doesn't need a registration at the library of congress to prove it. Just saying.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, they have not. Not since 1978, they haven't.

If they did not have a registration certificate in hand when the suit was filed, it was in the course of being processed by the Copyright Office, and the work would have had to have been registered before the court would permit the case to go forward---because without registration there would be no case.

Read the copyright law; it is quite clear that registration is a necessary prerequisite to litigation. The fact that the copyright comes into being with creation does not make it ENFORCEABLE.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
funny it has happened Before 1978
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are, then, unaware that the law changed remarkably in 1978, when common-law copyright was abolished.

Since 1978, no registration no court case. Sorry to intrude on your fantasies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are wrong. If you do not have a copyright registration for a US copyright you cannot go to court. The case will not be heard, because you have not met the necessary prerequisite. Without registration, therefore, the copyright is UNENFORCEABLE. You yourself admit as much, when you concede registration is necessary prior to litigation.

If you do not register prior to INFRINGEMENT, you are barred from claiming statutory damages and attorney's fees. Your recovery is limited to PROVABLE ACTUAL DAMAGES, which in most cases are negligible and the case therefore not worth pursuing. The threat to an infringer of having to pay not only its own legal expenses for defense, but the expenses of the aggrieved plaintiff, is often the key in being able to get a quick settlement, either prior to litigation or shortly after the initial papers have been filed. I have experienced this on behalf of clients many times.

As to "uneconomical copyright registrations," one can register any amount of work---any quantity of work---on a SINGLE registration form, as long as that work is all UNpublished at the time of registration. Furthermore, one may group-register contributions to periodicals (and blogs count as "periodicals") AFTER publication, using the proper forms---and, if that registration occurs within THREE MONTHS of first legitimate, intended publication, the law will treat any infringement which occurs between that first legitimate publication and the registration as if the registration had occurred PRIOR to the infringement, thus allowing the plaintiff to claim statutory damages and attorney's fees.

In short, registration is necessary for enforcement; pre-infringement registration is necessary for the best remedies; group registration is quite economical and readily available.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The above comment was posted in reply to Robin Roberts' comment above.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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