There are all kinds of, well, urban legends about copyright law. I know I've heard more than once that you can mail yourself a letter -- unopened -- with a copy of your work in it, and voila, you're protected. Unfortunately, that, and a bunch of other copyright promises that I've run across on the Web, aren't true. There IS such a thing as implied copyright under the "medium of protection" law, but people who use cyberspace as an arena for their workshopping and critiquing open themselves up to court fees and headaches since one has to file for infringement rights within three months of the first time something is copied and stolen. It's also very difficult to prove that elusive "significant harm" thing, so it's not as expensive as you might think to have your work of art copyrighted. It sure beats paying lawyers...
How safe are you from copyright issues? Are your readers people you know and trust? Is your Wireless network encrypted and do you have firewalls in place on your computer system? Read more about copyrighting from a Bay Area legal expert, and be careful - writers tend to borrow storylines without meaning to. Protect yourself from intentional threat and only work with people you know you can trust.
And if you think you're too obscure or insignificant to be plagirized from, you're not. It hurts quite a bit when someone else is going around claiming your work to be their own, even if they're not making money off it. For me, the worst part of it was that, in some way, those works were never safely mine again.
Be smart about who you choose to share your work with.
Thanks for the serious and necessary post, tadmack!
Huh--I actually heard from a lawyer that mailing yourself a copy of your work and keeping it unopened is considered proof of ownership in a court of law, as long as there's an official postmark.
Then again, I haven't been doing it. Or anything, really. But I do put a copyright notice on any creative work posted on my website, for whatever that's worth.
It even happens sometimes within groups of people you know, and if you're not quick on the draw and gently confront people about it, it gets away from you... we absorb stories instinctively sometimes, accidentally other times, but it's all very uncomfortable and awful and ugly and yeeuch to deal with...
I had to post this because I feel SO GUILTY every time I have to turn away someone from joining WritingYA. Our original premise was that it was a 'by invitation only' with the understanding that anyone invited had to be VERY well known. I feel selfish, but selfish here is safe...
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