Lately, writers have questioned the importance of copyright and why a “poor man’s copyright” doesn’t work just as well. Why not mail a copy of your ms to yourself (the “poor man’s copyright”) with the thought that the date stamped on the package verifies your ownership? It’s just as legal, or so the argument goes.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
This leads to the question, “Can a writer copyright an idea?” The answer is: No. According to Writer’s Digest and Brian A. Klems, ideas are free game.
“I hate to break the bad news, but you can’t copyright an idea. Nobody can. Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act specifically states: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated or embodied in such work.
“So if copyright law doesn’t protect an idea, what exactly does it protect?
Copyrights cover “original works of authorship” that the author fixes in a tangible form (written on paper, typed on computer, scribbled by crayon on a napkin, etc.). In other words, it protects the specifics of your book after it’s written. No one can steal, reprint or profit from your work without your consent. Though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t safeguard the idea behind your story.”
The example given in the above article is Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet compared to the musical, West Side Story. Same idea (same basic story), both copyright protected legally.
So how do authors protect their work? The answer isn’t simple, but the cleanest answer is to copyright it through the US Copyright Office, without exception. The next best step is to make sure you have a quality product: a great story that is well-written and competitive in the market.
It is our belief that great writers generally prevail. The adage that Imitation is the highest form of flattery is true. But whatever is copied is just that — an imitation. It’s about the writing. An original idea, written well and with passion, will always come through in the end product.
Still, the need to protect a writer’s work is critical. Click this link: to the US Copyright Office to register any work you have not yet copyrighted. Please writers, be proud of your work, cherish your stories, and protect them as you would your most prized possession.
…and then, keep writing!