It’s a common fear among beginning writers that our work will be stolen if we place it online. So are there any safeguards I can take to protect myself?
First, once work is placed on the Internet, it’s there for anyone to take. Buying an ebook gives me access to the text within it. For a determined individual, an ebook can be deconstructed to expose the raw data (my story). There’s not a lot of safeguards I can take against someone who wants to do this, but I can protect myself.
Register with Copyright.gov
I can’t copyright an idea, but as soon as I take that idea and make it concrete in written (or illustrative) form, it is my intellectual property. However, proving ownership in a court of law requires something more than my word.
Mailing my manuscript to myself through registered mail seems official but it will not hold up in court. For screenwriters, registering with the WGA is just as ineffective in court. The only way I can litigate a case of plagiarism or stolen intellectual property is by legally registering its copyright. My case becomes even stronger if I can demonstrate a history of creation (registering outline, first draft, …, final draft).
At the very least, I must register my final draft BEFORE I publish online. This is critical. If I discover that someone has stolen my intellectual property, then I register copyright afterward, it could be argued that I am the thief. A scenario could happen where the thief registers copyright of my work before I do. Now that would suck.
I reserve time to register my books before uploading them to online services. The first time I registered a work through Copyright.gov, it was a cumbersome and time consuming process. This was back in 2009. It took eighteen months to receive my official paperwork. Today, the process is streamlined and I receive an official response in weeks instead of months. The cost is minimal, $35 last I checked, for protection and peace of mind I get from registering copyright. The cost of losing all my work is far greater.
I owe it to myself to register my work to protect the countless hours I have spent crafting my stories.