How to Copyright Your Work

A copyright guide for writers including how to prove your work is actually yours under UK Law.

Image Credit: 
© 2016 Epytome / Used With Permission

You’ve finished it. After weeks, months, years of work, you’ve finally created something amazing. You’ve checked it, reworked it, got it to the point where it is finally ready to be shown to the world. Now you need to protect it.

The reason for copyrighting your work is simple – to ensure that it remains your property. Other people cannot use it without your permission. They cannot plagiarise it, sell it, reproduce it, or use it without your agreement. How you copyright it depends on your current location, as the rules are different throughout the world, but as we are a UK based site I will address copyright under the law of the United Kingdom.

The moment you create something it is yours. Copyrighted, unless stated otherwise, to you. If you want to release something as Creative Commons, or Public Domain, you simply place a declaration on the work somewhere and then let other people use it. However, to maintain copyright, and prove it in a court of law, you will need to take other steps.

Firstly, do not delete early versions of any digital files you create. Say you wrote a short story, that you started in 2011 and only just finished. By keeping that digital file there is evidence that you began writing that story in 2011, and the last time you edited it was whatever date, which will usually be somewhat before it is published. That is your proof that you wrote that story, so if someone else claims it is theirs, you can show when you created it.

A further way to prove your ownership is to post yourself a copy of the work. This is something I do with all my short stories, novels, music, and anything else I create. It’s a very simple process that will safeguard you against any copyright claim, and as long as you are UK based you can use this under UK law for international claims also.

Printing

Print out a copy of your work, with the title and attributed name (author name or pen name) at the top. On the first page you need to include the copyright notice, with the year you are declaring as the copyright taking effect and the name which the work is being attributed to. If that is your name, you simple write:

© 2016 Your Name

If, however, your name is a pseudonym or pen name, you need to specify that in the first instance of the declaration appearing, along with clarifying your real name:

© 2016 A N Other, a pseudonym of Your Name

Underneath the declaration place your address. It may also be worth including your phone number, website and email, but at the very least place your legally registered residential address – the one where you pay bills from:

© 2016 A N Other, a pseudonym of Your Name
1 Address Road, Some Town, County, PO57 0DE, United Kingdom

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Make sure all the pages are numbered. Ideally, include numbers that show the total number of pages to prevent any being missed, and also put in the word count. This is all to ensure that everything is included under the copyright.

On the other pages, as a minimum, include the page number and a shortened copyright declaration – the year and attributed name only:

© 2016 A N Other

Self-Posting

Take your printed piece and place it inside a windowless envelope.

On the front of the envelope, fairly obviously, write your real name (not your pen name) and your address:

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

On the back, over the bottom seal, write ‘From:’ and then your real name and address, again. Try and write over the actual seal, which helps to later prove that the envelope has not been opened:

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Still on the back, over the top seal, I always write the title of the piece. This, again, shows that the envelope has not been opened, but also allows me to tell what piece is in which envelope:

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Now it is ready to post. For added security, to definitively prove the envelope is unopened, I tape the seals shut, over my writing, and make sure the tape wraps round the front of the envelope, like so:

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Now you can post this first or second class if you’d like. I always opt for Special Delivery, which is both guaranteed for the next day, and means I have to sign for the envelope, thereby increasing security and creating backup evidence that this sealed envelope was posted to me on that particular day.

Proof

Once you have received your envelope in the post DO NOT OPEN IT. File it away, somewhere safe and secure, and keep it sealed. If you are ever accused of plagiarising someone else’s work you can then take that envelope to court. The judge will examine the postmark, determine the date that you sent it to yourself, and then open it, seeing what is inside. That proves, beyond all doubt, that you wrote that piece before the date of the postmark.

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Remember to only put one piece of work in each envelope.

If you tweak or adjust parts of your work after posting it to yourself, do not worry. You have a copy that may not be the most up to date version, but is definitely a version of that work, locked away, proving you wrote it.

It is best to self-post before you send your work to potential publishers or agents, so you can guarantee you created it prior to releasing it to them.

Admittedly, sometimes it can feel like overkill to do all this, but as Samuel Lover once said, better safe than sorry.

 

Disclaimer: This is merely a guide. If in doubt please consult a professional for legal advice.

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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