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Bev Cooke

First of all, your work is copyright the minute you put it on paper or screen. What you're talking about is the registration of copyright, and the manner & costs of doing that will depend on where in the world you live. Best to google the phrase "copyright registration" and your country. You can also put the little copyright symbol, your name and the date (year) on each page of your ms - if it makes you feel better.

Second. You can, if it also makes you feel better, register your copyright for your manuscripts, but quite honestly, editors have a lots better things to do than to steal your words and publish them under someone else's name. Editors think of authors who register copyright as amateurs.

You cannot copyright ideas, only the arrangment of words on a page - so if you had also come up with Rowling's idea of an orphan wizard who discovers his true identity at age 11 and attends a wizard's boarding school, you couldn't sue her for copyright infringement unless you could prove that you had actually written the books before she had, and that significant portions of her books were identical in wording to yours.

That said, you can't rule out the possibility that someone might steal your words and credit them as theirs, especially if you post work on the web. But in that case, registration may not help. What really helps is being able to prove when the work was created. If you send out your ms. and keep copies of the cover letters, as well as any communication the
publishers send you (including rejections), and someone later steals your work, you have the proof of when the work was created because other people have seen it and commented on it.

Last, it's rare that a plagerism case goes to court - it does happen, but not often - more often what you end up doing is going to the nastiest, meanest, low-down and dirtiest talking (but honest and ethical) lawyer you can find, and get him or her to write a really nasty, threatening letter to the person who's stolen your work. They cough up the truth and you get (with luck) some compensation for the hassle. Or at least get the work pulled and a public apology.

It happens, but not that often, and in my opinion, registering copyright isn't necessary or needful. I've never done it, and as far as I know (and I do keep my eyes open for it) my work has never been stolen.

A Second Post from Bev :

Actually, on a magazine story, the quick answer is yes and no, not a straight out no. The rights you sell to a book publisher are different
than the rights you sell to a magazine or periodical.

The all-rights story needs the permission of the rights owner before you can post it. That's not yours anymore, since you sold all the rights.

The partial rights stories cannot be posted until the stories have appeared in the publication who bought the partial rights. Once that has happened, you can do whatever you want with the stories, since the rights are yours, not the publishers. You can resell the stories to other publications, post it on your website, distribute it free on the streets if you care to. You don't need their permission, since they didn't buy all the rights. They bought first north American serial, or first world serial, or something like that, and all that gives them is the right to be the very first to publish the story in any format. Once they've done that, they have no more say over your story. You would be wise to include the name of the publication in which the story appeared when you post - that's often a courtesy you extend when the story is republished, and it's often something the magazine will ask you to do if
you do happen to inform them you're republishing it.

My advice would be to wait until the story has appeared and the next
issue of the magazine is out - that way you aren't competing with yourself, and you aren't encroaching on the magazine's market by offering something for free that they are charging for. Why should I buy the magazine with your story in it, if I can read it for free on the website? True, you don't get any more money out of the deal, but it does help keep that magazine in business so that you can sell more stories to them down the road - and that's a good thing.

Either way, none of the stories should be posted until after they've first appeared in the publications which bought them.

Posting the first chapter of a book on a site is a totally different thing. A book has a much longer shelf life than a story in a magazine, and so posting the book elsewhere will affect sales of the book for a longer time. A magazine has a shelf life of maybe a month, to a quarter of a year, tops - then it's done, gone and the new issue has taken its place.

Second is that publishing part of a book is not the same as publishing a self-contained story - the chapters of a book posted on the web can act as a marketing tool, to get people interested enough in the story to buy the book. The magazine piece is self-contained, complete and can't, unless it's part of an anthology in book form, entice people to buy
anything more.