Generally it's easier (and cheaper) to wait to register a copyright till a story/article/whatever has a definite publication date. It's also harder to sell a story with a registered copyright, there are various reasons for this, but mostly just because it looks amateurish. Or rather, the editor goes, "huh, has this already been published somewhere?" and, on determining that this is not the case, "must be one of those writers."
Your work is protected by copyright law from the moment you originate it. Registering a copyright is a good measure to take immediately prior to publication, when many yahoos will think they can steal it if it isn't registered. But it isn't necessary when dealing with reputable agents and publishers.
Survivor is right -- registering your copyright is not necessary when dealing with professional agents and publishers.
HOWEVER, be smart and don't skip the copyright page when you're copyediting your book. Whose name appears there is pretty important. And if you (or your estate) don't maintain the copyright for that book should it (or you) become a classic, those professional publishers are smart enough to snatch that up the day after it expires.
It's not something to worry about when you first start out writing, but it's something to keep in mind when you're finally published.
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
If you read the next two questions it answers when and why you should officially register something for copyrighting (like a story):
quote:Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.
So there you have it, straight from the proverbial horse's mouth.
PS - Prima Facie in this case basically means, and one of the HR lawyers can correct me if I'm wrong, that even though you registered your story after publication and/or litigation, in a court of law the registration will still hold up as "burden of proof" from the "year of completion" and/or "Date and Nation of First Publication" on listed on the copyright registration form. Meaning if I published a story in July 07 and didn't register my story, and then Hollywood ripped off my story for a movie released in June 09, I can register my story, back date it to June 07 (when I have proof of first publication and therefore completion) and sue the daylights out of the Hollywood studios for copyright infringement.
[This message has been edited by Jammrock (edited January 18, 2007).]
Oops - forgot the diclaimer - THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.
Copyrights exist from the moment you write it. Timing is everything though. If there is a dispute, the one who can trace it further back in time generally "wins." (Sorry, my bias is showing. I'm a litigator, if I have to submit your case to a judge or jury, I've already lost even if the final ruling is in your favor.)
The official copyright is just that, Official. It helps establish who used the idea in that manner first and generally only matters when the work is going into the public domain. If your Official Copyright is 1998 and someone is claiming to have created the work in 2000, in Court you should win. First in time, First in right.
"Prima Facie" - means just that "at first sight" or "on the face of it." (Black's Law Dictionary). So if you take the above example, my Offical Copyright is 1998 of a story - Dead Man's Road . The story "on its face" is mine. Now Survivor has to prove that his version predates mine if he doesn't, again, I should win. But, that tricksy Survivor has an old computer file with a 1995 origination date for A Corpse's Highway . His evidence beats or rebuts my copyright.
A sure sign of paranoia is to put the copyright mark (the "c" enclosed by a circle) on a manuscript when you send it out. I don't think Miss. Snark has anything on the issue posted on her blog, but I suspect if you put the mark on your submission, you are going to end up in the "rejected" pile as being "high maintanance."
[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited January 18, 2007).]
If you want to have proof of the date of completion of your story, you can always take a copy to a Notary Public and have them mark it with the date and their seal (and the service is free - any bank or realty office should be able to do it for you). That's legal proof of date. I used to do that with songs I wrote just to have proof of when I wrote it in case there was a problem such as George Harrison had with "My Sweet Lord" (a "nobody" had written the same tune or a very similar one - I forget the details now - and sued Harrison over his song. Proof of "which came first" was the deciding factor in the case, IIRC.) The publisher/agent doesn't need to know you've done this. Simply have one copy of the book notarized and file it away for safekeeping, then send fresh copies to the agents/publishers who are interested.
I'm no lawyer, so the lawyers among us may dispute this, but all I wanted was proof of when the songs were completed. I don't do this for my artwork or my novels, now that I know more about the copyright law, but I do keep photos (with dates) of works in progress (sculptures) for similar peace of mind.
Hardly nobodies...it was a well-known song, "He's So Fine," recorded by the Chiffons, that by rights Harrison should have known, and should've realized.
Too bad, though. Harrison's version was stronger.
Somebody once said that, for a well-known writer, a (false) charge of plagiarism is like somebody coming into your house and claiming your first-born child as their very own. Register your copyrights, if you feel the need. But you already own it without registration.
Might have something to do with your repeated threats to murder then entire human race. I don't think that neccesarily makes you a bad guy, but some people are oversensitive about being threatened with extinction.
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How 'bout if you send your work to yourself via the U.S. Postal Service? This way it has the official date on it and you won't have to put that nasty little copyright symbol on it for all the meanies at your agent or publisher to see. I've heard this works fine. But does it hold up?
The postal service trick is...not very good quality evidence, but it is evidence...of a sort.
If your work is getting ripped off by someone in the industry, then you're much better off contacting some other people you submitted it to than relying on raw "evidence" like sealed envelops and date/time stamps, both of which are very easy to fake. Submit to reputable publishers first. That will leave an independent paper trail that connects to actual witnesses on your behalf. If your story was good enough to steal, chances are that somebody will remember it well enough to testify that you are the originator.
If you send it via registered mail, the USPS will have a record of it.
On stealing from unknown writers...if a reputable publisher sees a manuscript that's good enough to steal, a reputable publisher won't want to---'cause if they steal it, they won't get any more good stories out of that particular writer.