Someone just emailed to ask about protecting her work on the Internet, so let’s go ahead and talk about this important topic.
From the moment of creation, your manuscripts belong to you whether you officially apply for a copyright or not. However, some Internet surfers seem to think that a writer no longer has a legal hold on anything that floats around in cyberspace, which, of course, is not true. Your work is your work, period.
A copyright or other means of “protection” can come in handy if you think the ownership of your work will be challenged or if you have to prove your authorship in a legal claim. Otherwise, writers seldom need to apply for a copyright unless they self-publish since the magazine, anthology, or book publisher will usually have that covered.
Unfortunately, some uninformed people feel free to pilfer writings from the Internet even though anyone with any sense should know that’s plain ole stealing anywhere in the world, including the World Wide Web. So, if you plan to start blogging soon or set up a website, you can help to protect yourself and educate other people in the process by typing below your work, “All rights reserved. Do not use without permission of (your name.)” Adding a copyright symbol and the date on each webpage, too, can help to deter writing theft, also known as plagiarism.
If you already blog, you’ll be glad to know that, in some ways, you have more protection on the Internet. For example, when you include your byline or sign your real name to anything you write and post, the Internet itself validates the date published and verifies you as the author of the work.
Even if someone later changes that information, Internet archive websites such as the WayBack Machine and Finding Old Websites can help you to find webpages that show your writing was indeed in that space on such and such a date and time just like you said.
If you know the exact URL of your work published on the Internet, so much the better! Similar to the function of a copyright, that URL address can help you to find earlier postings and prove your claim as the writer.
Courtroom scenes aside, it’s generally a good idea to check on your writings occasionally, too, by doing a word search for your name and/ or the title of a specific manuscript or poem.
For example, searching for herself on the Internet let one writer know that an e-zine had posted her article without paying her or asking for permission. The editor had acknowledged her as the author, however, so she decided to email him, politely but matter-of-factly, to let him know that he needed her permission and a promise of payment to keep using her work. He emailed back his apologies and immediately pulled the article from his e-zine, which nicely avoided legal hassles for them both.
For other types of solutions we won’t go into here, you might also do an Internet search of digital signatures such as Adobe explains on “Improve document authenticity and integrity.” For more about copyrights, visit the Library of Congress webpage “Taking The Mystery Out Of Copyright.” To ask a general writing question for future discussion by the National Writing Examiner, email [email protected]