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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Claiming Your Copyright

Be Mused

Claiming Your Copyright

Dear Muse,

CopyrightI've written a manuscript for a book, and I'd like to protect my work by obtaining a copyright. I know very little about the process, and I'd like to know where to start. Do I need a lawyer to fill out the paperwork and to make my claim legal?

It seems as if intellectual property law is always changing, and it can be difficult to keep everything straight. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture" are legally protected by copyright.

The subject of copyright law can be downright sleep-inducing; nevertheless, for a project such as yours, it's pretty important. Technically speaking, you already own the copyright to your work. The feds say, "Copyright exists from the moment the work is created." Still, it's a good idea to make it official with their office in the event that you need to sue someone for infringing your work.

Now, you could use a lawyer to file the necessary paperwork, but then something that should cost you thirty bucks will suddenly cost a whole lot more. The U.S. Copyright Office is the only entity that can accept your copyright application, and, as long as you follow their guidelines, they don't care if you've passed the bar or not. As the author, you are legally entitled to submit your own copyright application, and the U.S. Copyright Office makes this process virtually painless.

You can visit their website at www.loc.gov/copyright for more information than you'll ever need on copyright. (Among the FAQs you'll even find the answer to "How do I protect my sightings of Elvis?") You can download the forms you'll need online or, if you prefer the old-fashioned way, you can request your forms through their 24-hour hotline: (202) 707-9100 or via snail-mail: U.S. Copyright Office; Library of Congress; 101 Independence Avenue, S.E.; Washington, D.C. 20559-6000. You may also be able to obtain a copyright application at your local library.

I must warn you that there are a blue million forms to choose from, so try not to be overwhelmed. Form TX applies to "published and unpublished nondramatic literary works," and I'm fairly certain that that's the form for you. To register with the U.S. Copyright Office, send your completed form, a finished, hard copy of your manuscript and a check covering the thirty-dollar filing fee to the address above. Note that you will not get your manuscript back; instead, it becomes government property in association with your claim to copyright. Four or five months later, you should get your certificate of copyright registration in the mail. If there is some problem with your application, the U.S. Copyright Office will notify you. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

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