Copyright 101

Thanks to our workshop participant, retired attorney Gary, who did a little investigating into copyrights, we have some basic information and some sources for further reference.

If you’re curious, start with the government: and find common questions asked and answered. For example:

What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “What Works Are Protected.”

The circular, a .pdf file, is chock full of valuable information and explains in detail what’s included in a copyright and what isn’t. It also explains the “poor man’s copyright,” or the practice of mailing your work to yourself and saving it in it’s unopened envelope a proof of ownership of the material. Unfortunately, I learned that all those packages moldering in my filing cabinet are not protected and if I’m worried about it, I’d better register my work with the copyright office. However, there’s no rule about registering. It is completely voluntary as your copyright exists from the moment the work is created. I wouldn’t let out that breath you’re holding and relax. Just because your work is “automatically” copyrighted from creation—take THAT however you want—it isn’t protected, and you’ll have to register to sue the bootleggers when they rip-off your words. Or, you can be delighted that you wrote something wonderful enough to steal! That’s the attitude I tried on when I made my very first blog post at

Some things conquer your imagination, not merely exacting tribute, but forcing you to evolve. Mexico, and the book we read in sixth grade, Mexico, Our Neighbors to the South, conquered me. I remember pictures of brightly colored serapes slung over the shoulders of men clad in loose-fitting white pants and sombreros, docile-eyed donkeys piled to the sky with firewood or clay pots, spiny cactus and vast, desolate land. I imagined the beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed women stomping their feet and swirling their ribboned skirts in a spirited hat dance to music played on an accordion. Everything I read captivated me: the romantic legend of the volcanoes—Princess Ixtaccihuatl and her warrior lover, Popocapetl; the bloody Aztecs tearing out human hearts to ensure the sun’s rise each morning; the ranchos and vaqueros (cowboys); even the food— I could almost smell the tortillas warming on the griddle—and a strange dark sauce made out of chocolate called mole. I vowed someday to visit my “neighbors to the South” and know of all these wonders.

The bootlegger used the bit in an ad. I suppose I could have done something, but I was flattered instead. And I bet you wonder just how I found out one sentence of my memoir had been pinched? GOOGLE. You can keep tabs on yourself through google alerts or just googling your name.

Would I have gained anything by registering my blog post  and initiating action against the bootlegger? Let’s weigh-in on that: community college teacher per hour salary vs. attorney charging 10 x college salary per hour…. Let’s just say I perceived the rip-off as a win!

If you want more information, try these links:

This week’s prompt:

Write a scene about stealing something, or having something stolen. Surprise the reader, don’t rely on what people expect in a case of theft. Dig into the emotions. Show the place. Engage all the readers senses. This could be memoir, fiction, essay, poetry, even non-fiction, but get to the essential human drama. Explore your attitudes.

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