>Do I Need to Copyright Everything I Write?Posted: January 18, 2011
>People often worry about their story ideas getting stolen. I’m not going to lie. Occasionally it happens, but the truth is that most editors don’t steal ideas, and nobody else is going to write the story the way you would. So don’t stress out over it too much.
Once the piece is written, that’s another story. The law states that you own the rights to your article, poem or whatever as soon as it’s set in concrete form, whether it’s on paper or in a computer file. You don’t have to mail it to yourself or do any other strange machinations to prove it. The writing is yours, even if you never register it with the copyright office.
You’ll see copyright notices in most magazines and newspapers. Those do not cover each individual article. They cover the entire publication in its current form. Copyright for individual articles is a different story.
Registering everything you write is time-consuming and costly, although it does give you more power if you wind up in court over a stolen story. If you want to find out how to register your work, visit www.copyright.gov. The form is easy enough to fill out. If you’re writing a book, you certainly want to make sure it gets copyrighted. You can send short works together and register them as a package. But don’t stress out over it; your work is protected until you sell or give away your rights.
When you’re selling your work to a publication, always, always, always find out what rights they buy and confirm it with the editor. Ideally, you should only sell first rights or one-time rights, so that you can resell the same piece in other publications. You may be presented with a contract that asks for “all rights.” Resist this. Tell them you don’t usually sell all rights and see if they can change that portion of the contract. In some cases, they can. If not, you need to decide: Is this sale worth it for the money, exposure or prestige? Is this story so time-oriented or specific to that publication that you couldn’t sell it anywhere else anyway? Take the money and move on. Or is this something you could sell again and again if you hold onto your rights? You decide.
Good example. I just found out I’m going to get paid $50 more for a piece I sold to a local publisher over a year ago and already reprinted in an online publication. The original publisher is reusing it in another publication. With no extra work on my part, I’m making more money because they did not purchase all rights.
You may also be presented with a “work for hire” contract. That means the company treats your work the same way as work done by an employee. They assume all rights to the story and can do whatever they want with it, reprinting it in other publications, rewriting it at will, etc. Again, in some cases, it may be worth it to get published and paid. In other cases, you’re losing money.
So don’t let fear of being ripped off keep you from submitting your work, but do watch over your rights.
Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?