Before we go any further, I am not a copyright lawyer or any kind of expert. Always do your own research.
So yesterday I was reading about a situation that happened two years ago, where an author noticed similarities between his work and another. The author, Angel Zapata, proceeded to expose a whole trail of plagiarized content published by a person named, Richard Ridyard. (See Angel's post for the full story). When the story broke, others came forward with similar stories about Ridyard. At one point, Ridyard even tried submitting a Stephen King story as his own. (See A Broken Laptop's post)
Ridyard -- which was actually the name of a deceased journalist and not an actual person, as far as anyone could tell -- seemed to target stories that were published electronically. Angel Zapata stumbled into the whole mess because he was sent his own story (or at least similar enough to recognize, with one line lifted verbatim) via an email subscription to a flash fiction web site.
As a writer who plans to embrace the internet as a distribution tool, my next thought was: what could I do if that happened to me? I'm about to have two stories online, both of which netted me essentially no money, but have given me an opportunity to get my name out and build up some publication credits.
Sort of defeats the purpose if I'm just handing my story to a plagiarizer.
So I went to the U.S. Copyright Office web site, and submitted registration documentation for "Eau de Public Transit." I did this for two reasons: primarily because I wanted to know how to do it, but also because it couldn't hurt.
Many of you know someone stole my whole blog around 2000. The guy took all of the text, put it on his own web site and coded the text so a single page scrolled through the content, then created an art installation around it. He set up a computer monitor in a London museum to display the text, set the monitor on a table, and painted the wall blue behind. He charged 1000 pounds for the piece.
I contacted a copyright lawyer at the time and there wasn't anything he could do to help. I couldn't afford to pay consulting fees and my copyright only existed so far as "my word versus his."
When I finally got a response from the artist--I didn't discover the show until after it had been over several months--he offered to split the sale of his work 50/50 if it sold. He considered my blog, "found art" and thought he was being fair and kind to help expose my work as he had.
He also never thought I'd find out.
I might be relaying this calmly, but it still makes me furious. If I have to explain why that guy was so incredibly wrong, I will. But I hope you can see the problem for yourself.
All of this led me to pay $35 to register Eau de Public Transit yesterday. The online process is fairly simple, if tedious, but after you go through it once you can save your responses as a template. If/when I do this again it will take much less time. Also, I understand that some people group their unpublished short stories together and submit as a collection. I can see why that would be preferable, cost-wise.
Aaaand that's the story of my first official copyright. Have a nice day.