Guest Blogger Spot - Protecting Original Writing with Copyright Law - Katherine (Tori) Lutz

Protecting Original Writing with Copyright Law

Original writing, whether it is poetry, a novel, or a screenplay, is an inherently creative work. Fiction or nonfiction, writing is a product of the author’s own unique voice, and can thus be legally protected under intellectual property law. Here’s an overview of how this is done.

Creative Work and Copyrights

In the U.S., intellectual property law is a wide field covering everything from trade secrets and branding to inventions and artwork. Copyright law specifically covers original creative work, which is the category that original writing falls under.

As per the federal government, as soon as a creative work is “created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device,” it has an inherent copyright that can be used to protect from infringement.

There are some exceptions to this, like if you’re writing something on behalf of a client or company and have agreed that they will received sole ownership of the material. But in most cases, the copyright goes to the author.

So does this mean that as soon as you’ve written something, you should rest easy knowing that your legal work is done? Not quite.

Why You Should Register a Copyright

Copyrights can (and should) also be officially registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is a relatively straightforward process, but it does cost a small fee. So why go the extra mile to register a copyright for your original writing?

First and foremost, any copyright claims filed before the federal system will require you to register your copyright as part of the process anyways. This meant that the choice of registration is really just a matter of timing. However, waiting too long can cost you.

The most money you can get awarded through a successful copyright litigation where your work was not previously registered is whatever profits the infringer made. Say that a celebrity stole your poetry and put it on their official website claiming it as their own. If no significant profits were made as a result, you may be able to get the poem taken down, but receive no money.

If your artwork was under a registered copyright, however, you could be looking at $150,000 as a fine to the infringer for intentionally stealing your work. There are even fines for unintentionally stealing work but refusing to stop.

J.D. Houvener, of Bold Patents San Francisco, elaborates on the upsides of registration:

“Litigation and attorney fees are another aspect of copyright litigation that can be paid for, but only if the copyright was registered beforehand. Another key thing to note is that the act of registering a copyright makes it apparent that you are the legitimate owner of your original writing, which can be a strong case in court. Otherwise, many copyright cases rely on a he-said she-said process where it can be hard to prove the genesis of something that is unpublished.”

In short, given the benefits of registering a copyright and the fact that you have to do so eventually anyways to have any legal sway, sooner is better than later. Start at the U.S. copyright registration page, and you can get your original writing protected in no time.

In Summary

Writers and authors are creatives just as much as musicians and artists are. This means that original writing deserves the same protections as other creative work, and the U.S. legal system agrees.

Given the many financial benefits that come with registering a copyright for original writing, the added legitimacy, and the eventual necessity to register a copyright anyways when making any sort of claim, this process should be the go-to for any writer as early as possible in their process. We hope you found this article informative and helpful; for more, check out our blog!
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Katherine (Tori) Lutz is a graduate of Florida State University and current student at Columbia University. Her professional experience largely surrounds the areas of writing, editing, and marketing. She currently lives in New York City and spends her free time with friends and her cat, Garfunkel.

Katherine (Tori) Lutz
Freelance Writer, Editor & Social Media Strategist


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