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Put a c on it | copyrights

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Sara Hopkins

I remember years ago when I worked at a publishing office in a physical office building, a manuscript of actual paper crossed my desk. It was clearly marked at the top with the copyright symbol and standard wording (Copyright © 2014 by John Doe. All Rights Reserved.), which was repeated on every page. Chuckling, I turned to my coworker and mocked the amateurishness of slapping the symbol and phrase on there without actually getting a copyright. The coworker—an editor with far more experience than I had at the time—looked shocked at my wisecrack. She explained that just putting the copyright symbol on a manuscript offered a great deal of protection, and it was prudent to put the symbol plus the phrase and author’s name on each and every page.

In the intervening years, I have handled a lot of manuscripts, fewer and fewer of them on paper and fewer still marked with the copyright symbol and phrase. This decrease seems particularly odd to me as unpublished manuscripts are circulated far more widely than ever before. They are emailed to friends, relatives, acquaintances who read a lot, even online editing services. And all of these people—however well-intentioned and honorable they may be—have access to uncopyrighted intellectual property. Your uncopyrighted intellectual property.

This is probably a good place to mention that I am not a lawyer, nor am I any sort of expert in copyright law. But I have seen enough “private” emails go viral to know that once something leaves your computer, it’s fair game. The vast majority of people are trustworthy and would never knowingly steal someone else’s story. However, what if the manuscript is sent to a select group, then somebody sends it on to a few of their acquaintances, then one of those acquaintances puts it on their blog because they think it’s great then before you know it, you’ve lost control of your manuscript. It’s out there, circulating and morphing without your knowledge or consent.

That’s why I always recommend putting “Copyright © 2014 by John Doe. All Rights Reserved” on every page of your manuscript. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s smart. Note that if you write under a nom de plume, you must use your legal name on the copyright information. If you choose to publish the manuscript yourself, you should truly copyright it. Check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s website for more information: http://copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-register.html#published. However, if you decide to go the more traditional submission route, you can rely on the publisher to eventually copyright the work. I have heard more than a few people say that submitting a manuscript with copyright information on it looks amateurish, but I have never heard that from a publisher or an agent. Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would think less of you for being proud enough of your work to protect it.

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