The Supremes weigh in on copyright — Part 2

God must really love bureaucrats, or there wouldn’t be so many of them. I just wish we could rely on a higher power for a little help when we have to deal with them. Having spent several hours registering the copyrights for some of my work, I now have a reasonable working knowledge of the system as it pertains to publishing books. The system works, but it’s cumbersome, and it’s clear the process wasn’t designed by someone who gave a damn about the folks who have to use it. But wait! Isn’t that the definition of “bureaucrat?”

So, how did I get here? A quick recap of events (which you can read about here) is in order. The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v., LLC, specified that actual approval of a copyright application by the United States Copyright Office is required before a suit can be filed.

Previously, one could hold off registering a copyright until they had reason to believe someone was trying to use their work without permission. That’s no longer the case.

My initial research suggested one could register up to ten items at a time. The actual line from the agency’s web page states: “Beginning March 15th, you may register up to 10 unpublished works using the new application for a ‘Group of Unpublished Works.’ A different limit will apply when registering a group of photographs.” 

Silly me. I thought “unpublished works” included novels and/or non-fiction books. It doesn’t. The ten items mentioned here refers to songs, short stories, or other components of a single work. I presume that includes recipes, sermons, poems and similar short pieces of intellectual property. If your collection of short stories runs longer than ten, you’ll have to register the others in a separate filing. However, I couldn’t find anything to explain how these subsequent listings could be linked. Like I said, it’s cumbersome. The answer is likely in there somewhere. I just didn’t have the time to dig it out. Sorry.

So, that meant the ten novels I intended to register each required a separate application, even though most of the information in them was repeated unchanged. Oh, and the charge for this “service” is $55 per title.

While I poured over the logic-challenged webpages at and, I pondered what could happen if I just said to hell with it and left the copyright for my titles unrecorded.

With my luck, some joker would stumble upon a novel they really liked and decide to steal it. They could check for an existing copyright registration using the handy search function on the government website. And, upon discovering I hadn’t bothered to protect my work, they could–theorhetically (I don’t mean to suggest a methodology for the morally bankrupt)–republish it under their name.

Based on what I’m reading, there’s not a whole lot I could do about it.

But it could get worse! Imagine if the thief of my intellectual property took the time to register a copyright in his own name. He could then turn around and sue me for copyright infringement–on my own work!

So, guess who’s going to be spending some time recording copyrights. And in the future, I’ll do it before any new work is published. And I urge all the writers I know to do the same.

Don’t be stupid. Protect your work, and yourself.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Supremes weigh in on copyright — Part 2

  1. Hubert Crowell says:

    Great post, Josh did a much better explanation of the new rules than my comments on his blog. I previously copyrighted my first works, and last week applied for the balance of my books. I might add, at the cost of $55 each! In the future, I will apply before I publish. Thank you Josh for the clear explanation.

  2. Doris Reidy says:

    $55? Ouch. Whatever happened to the happy assumption I had that as long as something was published under my name, it was for all intents and purposes copyrighted? Thanks for sharing this unwelcome information with your usual generosity and clarity.

  3. I was under the assumption the line “copywrited material” on the Amazon sample page was protection. Now I see this isn’t true… I’m sure you know what assume means… Thank you for the info

  4. Robert Daniel Mumford says:

    Well $@*&. Make it easy for someone to grab our stuff while making it hard for us to copyright. But I guess we gotta do it. Thanks for the research.

  5. Karen Reed Woodcock says:

    And this is why I’m not publishing, Josh. To much hassle for this aging woman. It takes the joy out of writing.

  6. Alice Carnahan says:

    Thanks so much for this info, Josh! I have a question: When I file for copyright for my previously published books (I do need to do that, don’t I), can I just copyright the title, or do I have to apply for copyright for each iteration of the book (e-book, paperback, audiobook) separately? Alice

    • joshlangston says:

      I only registered the copyrights for the paperback versions since they also have ISBNs. I read over the government website pretty carefully, and I don’t recall seeing anything to suggest that each iteration of a published work had to have its own registration.

  7. Barry D. Womack says:

    Wow, Josh! Thanks for the heads up. So, it’s a grave new world out there for the self-published, and when I get my opus all polished and spit-shined, my first move is going to be to sign up for boot camp!

    • joshlangston says:

      That’s a very reasonable plan, my friend. There seem to be a lot of brand, spanking new applications out there which will “help” you fill out the government forms. Most charge $99. If you decide to throw money away, kindly let me know in which direction you’ll aim. I like to be prepared, too.

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