Nearly every time I speak to a group or teach a class, someone asks about copyright:
“Aren’t you afraid that someone will steal your ideas or posts and use them somewhere else?”Like all authors, I put a lot of work into what I write, whether that’s a blog post, a book chapter, a program description or handout, or an e-mail. I freely admit that I’m influenced by the work of other writers, and I often write on topics I’ve recently read about. However, I don’t write about anything until I’ve mulled it over enough to develop my own thoughts and opinions and can honestly say that what I write is my unique perspective because that’s how I learn and grow. And, it keeps me out of court.
“How do you protect your work so nobody can copy it?”
“If I read someone else’s story and subconsciously copy something they said, can I be sued?”
“If I want to include something someone else said, how much can I use without violating copyright?”
That gently modified perspective is what sets my work apart from the work I read earlier. I’ve taken a concept and given it a slightly different twist, as the person who inspired me did in her turn. We are each part of a chain of literary and philosophical evolution. At the risk of sounding like I’m inviting people to snag my work and repost it, which I most certainly am not, I will say that I don’t put anything on the Internet that I’m deeply attached to.
Please respect the work of any author and use it to develop your own message. Write about the topic your way and add your voice to the choir. But don’t copy my work or anyone else’s verbatim, especially without giving us credit. That’s both illegal and unethical.
Anything anyone writes, even a note on a napkin, is copyright by virtue of having been written. Many of us include a copyright notice on our stories and other work when we distribute it publicly. That is as simple as placing a line at the end or some other suitable place saying copyright, (current year) by (Your Name). Or you can use the copyright symbol to replace the word: © 2009, Sharon Lippincott.
For the greatest legal protection, register your copyright. You can do this online. The fee is currently $25 per item, so I reserve this for the most important documents, like book manuscripts.
The chances of subconsciously recreating the words of another author closely enough to put yourself at risk are slim. If you have questions or doubts, reread the original, and change yours if need be.
If you want to quote someone, you can use short excerpts without permission, according to Fair Usage laws. But anytime you quote the work of others, directly or indirectly, you should credit the author. Ditto on graphics. Don’t swipe graphics from a website to slap onto your own. Graphics are covered b the same copyright law as text. Noting in print today will be in the public domain within our lifetimes. If you ask permission, you’ll often get it, and sites like Flickr have photos available for your use under what’s called a Creative Commons license, which generally stipulates that you are free to use the photo as long as you cite the source.
If you have further questions about copyright, check these links:
A brief intro to copyrightBottom line: Keep your eyes on your own monitor and don’t copy the work of your neighbors. Stealing stories is bad form and bad karma.
Ten Big Myths about copyright explained
United States Copyright Office
Some Observations on Copyright Law
Right now: a short essay an your thoughts about copying. Did you copy on tests in school? Did you ever turn someone in? How do you understand the difference between inspiration, adaptation, and stealing?