Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Question of Copyright

Most recently I've had questions about copyright and how it works.  Questions like: If I write an essay, does it belong to me? or How much does it cost to copyright a self-published book? or What the heck is a copyright, anyway?

First, the good news.

You don't need to worry about copyright.  As soon as you write something (even if it's a blog), and as long as you didn't plagiarize from someone else, you own the copyright for that intellectual work and are covered under copyright law.  If you publish in a magazine, or have a book published with a company, they apply for the copyright for you.  Again, you don't need to waste any time worrying about copyright.  Really, who's gonna steal your junk?  Is your writing that good?!

Now, the fun stuff . . . (sorry, I'm going comedic here).

Q:  What exactly is a copyright?
A:  The copyright was created by the Founding Fathers back in 1789 after it was discovered that the French were copying large portions of The Declaration of Independence and using it to make low-budget political films.

Q: What happens if someone rips off a paragraph from my diary and signs a contract with MGM for a major motion picture based on my life?
A:  Heck, this happens to me all the time . . . are you familiar with George Clooney?  That's really my life he's living, but do you see me complaining?  I think my wife has been sending him excerpts from my diaries for years in an attempt to steal a kiss.  But it's not working, and I'm getting terribly frustrated.

Q: Okay, but what if I do write something that's so valuable, people in Singapore or Malaysia just have to have it?  What about that, smart-alek?
A: Again, this happens to me all the time, only substitute Hymera, Indiana and Akron, Ohio for these exotic locations.  I've discovered that people have been ripping off my work for years and using it on billboards and in high-school musicals.  By my calculations, I've lost millions of dollars to these plagiarized works, and the sixteen-year-old kid responsible for these intellectual thefts will be getting a wedgie.

Q: So . . . you're telling me that I don't need to worry about anyone stealing the essay I wrote entitled, "How to Remove a Coffee Stain from Your Sofa Cushion"?  Wouldn't an article like mine be worth millions of dollars to a magazine like Redbook or Better Homes & Gardens?
A:  Perhaps.  But you have to remember: I've already written that essay.  Where do you think I got it?      

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