Should you copyright your work?
When new artist contact me about making cartoons, most of them are very hesitant about expressing their ideas to me....they are afraid that I might steal their idea from them because they don't have a copyright on the work. I try to convince them that they have nothing to worry about because even if they don't know it, they are already protected and they are already copyrighted.
Basically, in layman's terms, COPYRIGHT means YOU have the RIGHT of COPYING your story and no one else does. Here is what the copyright office at the Library of Congress says about when your work is copyrighted:
"Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. "
So, if two strangers were sitting in a room, and one of them suddenly blurts out "Hey I have this great idea for a new cartoon about a talking bear in a zoo by day but a assassin by night." And the other guy says "Hmmm...okay I have to go now" and he goes home and creates a story using his computer, about a talking bear assassin...
Who owns the copyright...who owns the story?
The first guy?
Nope. The second guy...because even though he stole the idea, he put it in a tangible form...he typed it into a computer and it is dated. So, if both guys went to court over this idea, the judge would say "Who came up with the story FIRST?" The first guy would say "I DID!" The Judge would ask "Can you prove it?" The first guy would say "uh, well, um...." and the second guy would say "I can prove it" and he would produce the story with a date from the computer. Second guy wins.
So really, when I ask an artist to let me see his story, if they email it to me, BAM they are copyrighted...in their SENT file is the date and time that they e-mailed me the story, and even if I did steal it, I could not come up with an earlier date than what you sent me. Take me to court...YOU WIN! You take possession of my assets and I go to jail.
So should you file all the paperwork and pay the fees and register with the Library of Congress? Wanna guess what the Library of Congress says?
"No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. "
And there it is in a nutshell...of course I am just giving you a brief outline of the copyright laws, but the whole point is , don't worry so much...you are protected in the USA of someone stealing your work if you put it in a tangible form...
The old trick is to send the story to yourself in an e-mail...this way you have a tangible date on your work... therefore, you are protected.