This question came to my mind the other day as I listened to my car radio while driving to work. The announcer said that all tweets are stored in the Library of Congress. Huh? Why would they go to all the trouble to collect and store all those inane lines we send into cyberspace. According to the announcer, the folks at that prestigious institution want to know our thoughts. Well, I thought, if they want my one-liners why not give them my masterpiece as well?

But seriously, copyright is serious business. Copyright infringement can send you before the courts. As an author, you probably know the meaning of copyright. In case you don’t, here it is: it is the protection of an author’s original work whether published or unpublished. This protection is obtained by registering your work with the US Copyright Office.

You must be aware that anything you create – school paper, books, music, any intellectual property – is automatically copyrighted. You don’t have to write the copyright symbol or the year for it to be copyrighted. However, if you want to protect your work from being used, copied, distributed or infringed upon by others, it is wise to copyright it. Doing so gives you certain advantages under the Copyright Act, among them the freedom to file a lawsuit against the person who committed the infringement. Here are some other facts concerning copyright:

What is The Poor Man’s Copyright

It’s a myth, that’s what it is. When I first began writing, I heard a lot about this. Writers thought it a good idea to do this in order to avoid expensive fees. But as you will see later on, the fees are not at all expensive. The Poor Man’s Copyright involves mailing a copy of your work to yourself and not opening it in order to establish the date of its existence. There is no protection with this method since your work is not registered with the US Copyright Office.

What is Fair Use

According to the US Copyright office, it is permissible to use “limited portions of a work including quotes” for certain purposes laid out in the Copyright Act, such as criticism, teaching, news reporting and research. So don’t assume because something is on the internet it is fair use. However, there are no legal stipulations as to the number of words you can use. Each case is examined on a case-by-case basis to determine whether infringement occurred.

Public Domain

This is different from Fair Use. When a work is in public domain, it has no copyright protection. As a rule of thumb, works created before 1923 are now in the public domain. Other works that are in the public domain are:

Works created by the US government
A work whose copyright has expired
The work was donated to the public domain by the owner
Certain Bible translations

Using Copyrighted materials in my book

If you wish to use someone’s work in your book, you must obtain their permission, preferably in writing. And don’t wait until a couple months before your book goes into print. If you don’t know who owns the copyright, you can do a search at the US Copyright’s website or office. All records from January 1978 to the present are available. For more info see If you want the staff to conduct the search you will have to fork over $165 an hour for a 2-hour minimum search.

By now you may be thinking, it does make sense to copyright my work. You can now file electronically for a small fee of $35.00 ( This is a fast and secure method and costs the least. If you prefer to use a paper form, the cost is $65.00 payable by check or money order. As an author you will request form TX.

As authors we can be easily exposed to liability by being unaware of legal matters. You can find this and more information at or at

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