Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Constitutes "Publication" Under Copyright Law?

Dear Rich: I wrote an “In Remembrance” booklet when a family member passed away. About 20 copies of the booklet were given to family, friends and neighbors. The booklet didn’t even have my name on it because everyone I gave it to knew I was the author. It was not used for a memorial service and there was no sale or public display involved. Recently, I found out that one of my friends had faxed the booklet to two people he knew, even though I asked him not to. Because of the response, I’ve decided to lengthen the booklet and turn it into a short story for sale – either to magazines or as a POD book. I’ve since added my name and a copyright notice.  (1) Has the booklet been published? (2) I know that the work is already copyrighted, but should I be worried since there is a period where someone could have stolen my work and submitted a registration for copyright? 
Your booklet would not be considered "published" under the Copyright Act if you distributed it to a limited group of people with restrictions -- for example, you asked people not to copy or distribute it (sometimes referred to as a “limited publication”). In any case, we're not sure it makes much difference. If you're concerned about your rights, you should register your current version (and in your application, indicate the current version is derived from the previous booklet). In the unlikely event someone has registered your booklet as their own, you can claim infringement and also seek to invalidate the registration. You can investigate registrations at the Copyright Office website (but keep in mind that registration takes approximately four to six months so bad actors may not show up right away).