Because I'm a lawyer, writers sometimes ask me, "How do I copyright my material?"
My answer? "Get it out of your head and onto paper or a computer drive." Because the minute you put it in tangible form, it is copyrighted.
"But don't I have to register it with the government or something?"
You can. But no, you don't have to. There are advantages to registering, but they are too complex to talk about in a blog post. It can also be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you register multiple copyrights.
Including a copyright notice (using either © or the word "copyright," the year, and your name) is enough to keep most people from "borrowing" your material. That's because they don't realize material is copyrighted unless they see a notice.
If you are worried that someone will steal your idea, registering won't help, anyway. You can't copyright ideas.
If you are worried that someone will steal the words you use to express your idea, then registering can help you prove they are your words. But unless you are J.K. Rowling or J.D. Salinger, your words aren't likely to be a prime target for theft.
Of course, your book may become the best seller of the century. And when it gets published, you should register it. In fact, the publisher will probably do it for you.
In the meantime, you have to weigh the time and money against the likelihood that someone will steal your material. And only you can decide whether it's worth it.
For more information on copyrights, go to U.S. Copyright Office.
Christians and Copyrights
I was going to end there until I read Rick Barry's great post on Thursday. Rick reminded us that we write to glorify God rather than for riches or acclaim. I agree with every word in his post, but it brought back memories of a debate I once engaged in on a Christian writers' forum. The debate began when someone claimed that writing for God is inconsistent with receiving credit or making a profit from it.
The right to receive credit and compensation, as well as the right to control publication and distribution, flows from the copyright laws. So is it against God's will for Christians to claim their copy rights? No. In Luke 10:7, Jesus told his disciples that they deserved to be paid for their work. Paul made the same point in 1 Corinthians 9:3-12. God does not begrudge us the rights the law provides.
Paul chose not to exercise his rights, and if you want to let others copy your works without paying for them, you can. But without the copyright, you would have no control at all.
As Christians who write to glorify God, we are worthy of our wages or, to put it in other words, of our copyrights. What we do with them is our choice.
Kathryn Page Camp
P.S. My monthly posts will mostly discuss legal issues of special interest to writers. Please leave comments on the topics you want me to cover.