Myth #1: If it doesn’t have copyright notice, then it isn’t copyrighted.
Just because a work does not display proper copyright notice doesn’t mean that the work isn’t copyrighted. Copyright protection is obtained the moment a work is put into a fixed, tangible form. Since the Berne copyright convention, works created after 1989 do not have to display proper copyright notice in order to be protected under U.S. copyright law. However, it is good practice to place proper notice in order to caution infringers from stealing your work.
Tip! It is advisable to place the following statement, © 2013 John Doe, as a header/footer on your work, especially when submitting it to publishing companies. This protects you from the “innocent infringement” defense.
Myth #2: If the book is out of print, then it is fair game.
Copyright protection lasts for 70 years beyond the death of the last surviving author, and in some cases longer if the rights and permissions of that book have been transferred or willed to another individual. It is always advisable to do your homework and obtain permissions.
Tip! You can search copyright records online at http://www.copyright.gov/records/. It also provides you with the information on who to contact for rights and permissions.
Myth #3: If I write a book loosely based off another book, it is considered my own, and I am free to do as I wish with it.
Using material from someone else’s work, no matter how little you use, is still copyright infringement. Copyright protection gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to create “derivative works.” This means that you are creating a derivative work without the permission of the original copyright owner. It is always best to obtain permission regardless of how loosely your work is based off theirs. Plus, wouldn’t you rather create a unique and original work?
Myth #4: If the work is unpublished, then it is not copyrighted.
Works do not have to be published in order to obtain copyright protection. Works not only obtain protection under U.S. copyright laws as soon as they are put into a fixed, tangible form, but they are also eligible for being formally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The best rule of thumb is to consider everything as being copyrighted.
Tip! If you want to copyright your work but plan to publish it at a later date, it is advisable to pre-register your work with the copyright office. This way you do not have to pay costly fees to amend the copyright after publication.
Myth #5: I can mail a copy of my work to myself, never open it, and therefore can prove copyright protection.
This is considered the “poor man’s copyright,” and, unfortunately, it doesn’t prove copyright protection. Since the contents of the envelope could be switched, this merely proves that you mailed an envelope to yourself on that given date, which isn’t effective evidence in the case of a lawsuit. The best possible option to fully protect your work is to formally register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.
For more information on copyright, the copyright.gov website offers an excellent circular on copyright basics: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf.