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How to copyright


How do I copyright something?

3497 day(s) ago

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NotEinstein
Copyright law is a bit weird: any creative work is copyrighted as soon as it's in a complete state on a physical or digital medium. This means once you print a copy of a manuscript or record a song on your computer, it's copyrighted. However, if you want full legal protection in most* countries, you need to register your copyright.

You may have heard of something called a "poor man's copyright." This is simply a sealed envelope containing the work that has gone through the mail: the postmark date shows that the contents were created on or before that date. This can be used to show prior work, but guarantees no legal protection.

Once you have a copyright, you can denote this with a notice, typically the word "copyright" or the c in a circle symbol followed by the authors' names and the year of publication.

Most copyrights can be registered on-line using the eCO system:
http://www.copyright.gov/forms/
This is pretty straight forward: you need to fill in details about the title of your work, when it was created, and how you can be contacted. Once it is published, you are required to send a copy of the work to the Library of Congress.

You read that correctly: The Library of Congress has such a large collection because the law requires one copy of every work published in the U.S. must be sent there.

There are also non-commercial legal contracts that work similarly to a copyright. Creative Commons and GNU General Public License are designed to let authors control their works while also letting them be modified or distributed by others. Technically speaking, these works are still copyrighted, but the author adds a legal document that removes some of the restrictions on use of the work.

*You'd think only small countries wouldn't have copyright registration, but this includes Australia. In these countries, copyright is proven by dated documents related to a work. A registered copyright in another country can always be used as proof.

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