In America, writers, illustrators, creators of content, are advised to register the copyright of their works. If you’re reading this in America, you probably know more about this than I do. However, a brief search of Google has taught me that the initial filing of a copyright application costs somewhere between $50 and $65.
However, if you’re reading this in Britain, I have some good news for you: we don’t register for copyright. The thinking is – from the moment you’ve written it down, you own it. I’m probably playing it down a lot more than I need to. The point is: writers in Britain don’t need to pay fees or send copies of our work or get stamps or what have you in order to obtain copyright. Honestly. Feel free to check it out with the government.
It is, however, advisable to keep every piece of paper, every note in connection to your WIP, sign and date everything.
Years back, I heard of something which, at least at the time was termed ‘poor man’s copyright’. This involved making copies of everything written, popping it in an envelope, sending it to oneself (thereby obtaining an official date stamp) and then, when said envelope arrives, not opening it. The thinking behind this was that, if copyright needed to be established, the envelope – having remained untouched – could be opened by some kind of court official and proof of ownership could be shown.
Since then, I’ve known people who regularly email their work to themselves. People with a better understanding of technology than I, would say that email dates can be changed. I have no idea how, this is clearly beyond me. I would, however, advise emailing of your work to yourself as best practise in any case. Regardless of copyright, it’s a little miracle when your computer crashes or you forget to save your work.
I’ve had moments like this myself. I lost the first four chapters of ‘Sex, Death & Scallops’ in a power cut. Aimée could tell you about the shuddering tears that came when I couldn’t find the file and I couldn’t remember the brilliant turn of phrase that I’d written just hours before. I was a wreck and that was (if I’m honest) only four chapters. I’ve known people who’ve lost early, unpublished works, who’ve lost whole books and had to pay mad-money to get clever tech people to drag some semblance of the file from beyond the grave.
I have clip folders with hard copies of early drafts, multiple attempts at synopses, former character names – I go through a lot of name-changes – it’s a thing. I make detailed notes in my diaries. I leave nothing to chance. I have been told, more than once, that – although a dyed in the wool optimist, I have a very suspicious mind. I only need one verbal misstep before I start thinking, ‘They never found Lord Lucan,’ and suspecting that the verbal misstepper is one and the same.
The lesson is: if you need to obtain official copyright, do so. If you don’t, save everything. Back everything up. Keep clip files, box files, shoe boxes, whatever, with all your notes and ideas. It’ll take up space but it’ll help to prove the work is yours.