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After Twilight December 2006 Issue




I have a little horror story for you.  Imagine walking around the bookstore, swimming in the tranquility of the literary world.  You pick a book up off the shelf and read the back.  As you do, that tranquility is replaced with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Could it be?  The story you’ve been working on for years…could someone else have written it?  Or something terrifying similar to the work you’ve put your heart and soul into.


No, they didn’t get a copy of your novel and rewrite it, chances are, unless you have it posted on an open internet site, they’ve never seen or heard of it.  But yet…they appear to have a link into your mind. 


And, they’ve published before you.  Are you ready to scream yet?


Question is:  How do you continue your work without the worry that someone will accuse you of plagiarism, even though your novel is all your own, and it’s a coincidence someone published something similar?


One way is to educate yourself about the copyright laws and ways of backing up your work for proof.  I hope to do a little bit of that today.



The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as such:


Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.


Copyright protects original works in a tangible form, with or without the use of a machine or device.  Things it doesn’t protect include anything in a non-tangible form, titles, names, short phrases, slogans and familiar symbols and designs.    Also, a person ideas are not protected, only the written work they have produced.


You do not need to be published to obtain a copyright.  The work is copyrighted the second you put it on paper (or on disc).  However, by applying for a copyright with the Library of Congress, you get a date on your work that will stand up in a court of law.  Without it, it’s up to you to provide beyond a doubt, the work in dispute is an original creation of your own. 


Currently, the application fee to obtain a copyright is $45.00.  More information can be obtained by the  U.S. Copyright Office - Registration .



Plagiarism:  Noun.  1. A piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work  2. The act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own (Word web)


Basically, someone takes your work, rewords it, changes it a bit (if their smart enough to do so) and claims that they wrote it.  The underlying work remains the same.  Sentence you wrote, dialogue that held a place in your heart, stolen.  Now, you have to prove beyond reason of a doubt that you created it first.  Below, you will find a few suggestions on how to protect yourself beyond obtaining an official copyright.


1:  Print and Date your material and communicate with a third party (preferably written) that you have just finished so and so.


2:  The Poor Man’s Copyright.  Take your finished work, put it in an envelope and seal it good.  Address it to yourself and mail it.  The postal stamp will work as dated proof—as long as you never, ever open that envelope.


3:  In Microsoft Word, under printer options, there is a box you can check to print page properties.  This will print out the date, name of document, date last altered and such.  I can’t guarantee this will stand up in court, but it might not hurt. 


4:  Save to discs, original, read only copies of your work and keep it in a save place.  Read only files cannot be altered (to my understanding) so they should retain the original information from when the document was saved. 

Do whatever you can to say, “This is mine.”.  That way, when you walk into the bookstore and see that someone has used the same, non-copyrightable idea of yours, you’ll have the proof if anyone says anything after you are published.



Not every writer worries about accidentally publishing the same idea as another.  If there are specific elements (character names, dialogue, scene descriptions, plot turns) that are identical or nearly identical in both works, then you need to worry and change what is needed to make sure your story remains yours. 

Protecting your own work is smart.  It helps keep the dream alive.  Plus, if your hard-drive ever crashes, you’ll be praising yourself for backing up everything, time after time.


Please check out the links provided to learn more about the copyright laws and protecting your work.


Happy writing

Cindy Bergquist



U.S. Copyright Office

Fiction Factor - Know Your Rights

Fiction Factor - That Was My Idea

Fiction Factor - Copyright Those Documents!

Helpful Articles Q&A Archives

When Someone Steals Your Work





Coming in January to After Twilight:  Ghost Hunters Corner.  Each month we will be including a small article on different aspects of ghost hunting and the world of the paranormal.



Wanted:  Your TRUE ghost stories.  For more information, click on EDITORS CONTESTS on the side menu.



Cindy Bergquist