Highlights on Copyright & Publishing from the Indie Author Conference

Rockin' my Magic Red Chucks at the Changing Hands Indie Author Conference - Photo by Jeff Moriarty (used with permission)

Rockin’ my Magic Red Chucks at the Changing Hands Indie Author Conference – Photo by Jeff Moriarty (used with permission)

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Changing Hands Indie Author Conference over the weekend. It was a day packed with sessions for indie authors and aspiring indie authors on how to publish and market a book. I did two sessions called “Legally Speaking” on how copyright applies to book writers. Here are the top 10 highlights from my presentation and the audience’s questions.

1. You have copyright rights in your work the moment your ideas are captured in any tangible medium (paper, computer file, etc.). You still have your rights even if you forget to put a copyright notice in your book.

2. Having a copyright gives you the exclusive right to copy, display, distribute, perform, and make derivative works based on your work. These rights last for the duration of your life, plus 70 years if your work was created after January 1, 1978.

Close-up of my Magic Red Chucks - photo by Pam Slim (used with permission)

Close-up of my Magic Red Chucks – photo by Pam Slim (used with permission)

3. You don’t have to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to get your rights. You do have to register if you want to sue for infringement.

4. You should submit you application to register the copyright in your book before you make it available for sale.

5. If you live in a community property state (like Arizona), copyrights acquired during the marriage are community property unless you have a prenuptial agreement or spousal agreement that states otherwise.

6. Make sure you understand the difference between a copyright assignment and a copyright license. In the former, you give away your copyright rights; in the latter you retain copyright ownership but grant someone permission to use some of your rights.

7. If you are incorporating other works, characters from existing works, or trademarked products, consult an attorney to make sure you understand what legal risks you’re taking with your project.

8. You will need works made for hire contracts or copyright assignments for artists who contribute to your book (i.e., illustrations, graphics, forward or afterward by another writer, cover art) to give you the copyright in what they create. Consider adding a provision to the contract that states the contributor indemnifies you if you’re accused of copyright infringement because of their contribution.

9. When you create a budget for your book, plan to pay for a lawyer for a few hours to draft or review your contracts. Use a copyright lawyer, not your lawyer buddy who specializes in personal injury law.

10. If you have a publisher, read your contracts carefully to make sure you understand what rights you’re giving up (if any) and how and when you’ll be paid. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand because you’ll probably be stuck with the contract as long as it’s not illegal. Never be afraid to ask for clarification.

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New Stance on Blog Copyright Registration

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Grrr . . . It seems like every time I call the Copyright Office with a question about blog copyrights, I have to change my stance on how and whether anyone should register their blog’s content. Mind you, when I wrote the Legal Side of Blogging last year, my research and ideas were approved by my cyberspace law professor and another internet/copyright attorney. We all got it wrong.

I used to think that bloggers should register their new content every three months because the Copyright Act says you’re eligible for statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever is first. In a previous call to the Copyright Office, the representative said it was permissible to register all your content as one work and that subsequent registrations would be derivative works of the prior ones.

A few months ago I was informed that content that is only available online (including blog posts) doesn’t count as “publications,” so that rule about registering within three months of publication doesn’t apply. For unpublished content, you have to register you work prior to the infringement occurring to be eligible for statutory damages. If you wait until after your work has been stolen to register you work you can only collect actual damages, which will be low unless you or the person who stole your work has a financially successful site.

I called the Copyright Office yesterday and was told that you can’t register posts that are released on different days as one work (though my experience is proof that you can) and you can’t register the same post as an individual work and as part of a larger work, (though I think there’s some wiggle room here).

So here’s my new stance – registering your blog content is not worth it for most people. The exception to this rule is you might want to register your work if you think it will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. If you’re in this boat, or think you might be, you should submit your application to the Copyright Office before you release the post on your site to ensure that your application will be in before any infringement can occur.

This is more proof of how behind the times the law is and that you can’t apply logic to copyright on the internet. I think it’s moronic that online content isn’t “published” when it’s released on the internet. I think this definition will change in the near future with so many publications switching from paper to being online only. As the law is written and applied the law seems unfair because it makes it harder for online writers to protect themselves.

There is a special copyright registration for “serial works” but so far the Copyright Office says blogs, including those that are released on a strict schedule like other serial publications, do not qualify. I think this is wrong and needs to be challenged.

For now, I’ve added a disclaimer to my ebook on Amazon that states that the copyright registration chapter is inaccurate and will be updated this summer. I hope to add the revised chapter to the book in the next month once it gets through legal review and editing.

Update on Registering the Copyright in your Blog

Library of Congress by ctj71081 from Flickr - Where your work goes when you register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Library of Congress by ctj71081 from Flickr – Where your work goes when you register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

I’ve been a proponent of registering your copyright in your blog every three months. The federal Copyright Act states you must register the copyright in your blog within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement, whichever happens first.

So every three months (March 31st, June 30th, September 30th, and December 31st) I have a note on my calendar to register my blogs. I take all the content I’ve added to my blog since my last registration, create a PDF, and register it.

I made a mistake on my last copyright application.

I let logic dictate my action and I claimed that my publication date was December 31, 2013 on my last application. I should have said that my word was “unpublished.” If I declare that my work is published, I have to register each post individually. If the work is “unpublished,” the dated posts can be registered as a group.

You would think that putting something on the internet counts as publishing a work, but it doesn’t. In the Copyright Office’s words, “For copyright purposes, ‘publication’ means the distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. Offering to distribute copies to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display is also ‘publication.’ The following do not constitute “publication:” the printing or other reproduction of copies, a public performance or display of the work, or sending copies of the work to the Copyright Office.”

If the only place you put your content is on your blog, it’s likely not published. If you repurpose your content in multiple locations, it might be. (Talk to a copyright attorney to see if you’ve “published” your work.)

The downside of blog content not counting as published is you have to register you work prior to it being stolen to be eligible for statutory damages under the copyright laws. So the idea a lot of my copyright attorney friends and I believed about registering every three months is not a good strategy. Also, the Copyright Office doesn’t like it when you register posts that were released on different days as a single work. Experience tells me that they’ll let you do it, but if they know that’s what you’re doing, they’ll tell you that you have to register each post individually.

Because of this, the best strategy for people who want to be able to sue for copyright infringement if their blog content is stolen is to register your work before you put a post on your site. Yes, this will be more expensive because each post will need its own registration, so you might want to only register the posts you think will be stolen, and even then you may want to only register the posts that you think will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay the damages assessed by the court and your attorneys’s fees. Otherwise you might be better off not suing for copyright infringement and sending a cease and desist or a DMCA takedown notice.

If someone steals your work, you should talk with a copyright lawyer ASAP. Even if you didn’t register you work before the infringement occurred, you may be in a situation where it is worthwhile to pursue actual damages which is how much money you lost and the alleged infringer made because of the infringement. They can also discuss other ways to address infringement that don’t involve the court system.

For more information about copyright and blogs, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.
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Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Phoenix Comicon Badge Art Being Ripped Off

Phoenix Comicon 2012 Badge Ruth Carter

Picture from my 2012 Phoenix Comicon Badge

I recently wrote a post about copyright, fair use, and fan fiction and I did an analysis of Marty Freetage’s artwork that was on the badges for Phoenix Comicon this year. It was an awesome parody of Angry Birds and The Avengers. Parodies are generally permissible under the fair use doctrine and I thought Marty’s work was original enough that the copyright holders for Angry Birds and The Avengers probably wouldn’t come after him or Phoenix Comicon for copyright infringement.

Shirt on Gabilife.com

This week I was surprised to see a t-shirt for sale on Gabilife that looks exactly like Marty’s picture. A lot of people on Facebook posted that Gabilife used Marty’s work, changed the background, and stuck it on a shirt. Whoever owns the copyright in the badge art has good reason for believing that their Gabilife is infringing on their work.

This story gets more complicated by Gabilife claims to be a company in India. It raises the question of what are the possible recourse options to make them stop selling the shirt. If they have a presence in the United States, whoever owns the copyright could go after Gabilife for infringement as if they were a US-based company.

Gabilife’s terms state “Pursuant to Title 17, United States Code, Section 512(c)(2), notifications of claimed copyright infringement under United States copyright law should be sent to Service Provider’s Designated Agent.” I searched the agent list on the US Copyright website and I didn’t see a listing for Gabilife or Gabi. That makes me wonder if they just copied someone else’s terms and conditions without registering an agent.

If owned the copyright for the original badge art, I’d register the copyright in the artwork immediately. A copyright holder maximizes their options for recourse if they register their copyright within 3 months of publication or 1 month of learning of the infringement, whichever happens first. If this art hasn’t been registered, that window could still be open.

If the work was registered in time, I’d sue them for copyright infringement if it was a US company. If the company doesn’t do business in the US, there’s probably no point to suing them. If suing them would be pointless, I’d either send a DMCA takedown notice to the email address listed on their site and to their snail mail address. If I wanted to be really bold, I would send them a licensing agreement and a bill that states that they agreed to the licensing agreement by using the artwork without permission.

I wouldn’t expect them to pay me, but it would be validating.

So what is the take away message?

  1. Register your copyrights shortly after creating an original work, especially when you’re as awesome as Marty.
  2. If you suspect someone is ripping off your work, contact a copyright attorney in your community (like me!) to help you strategize and execute your response.

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