How to Copyright Short Stories

If you have written a short story, you are likely wondering how to best protect your written work from theft, plagarism, digital piracy or other unsolicited use. Copyright is the basic protection given to authors automatically upon completion of a short story. Registering a copyright is not required, but authors can do so to prevent future lawsuits if copyright comes into question.

Decide whether registering copyright is right for you. Registering copyright is not essential for authors and does not provide extra copyright protection. Registration creates an official public record of your copyright and allows authors to sue for infringement of copyright if their short stories have been taken by another party and used without permission.

Visit the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office to register for copyright and complete the online registration form. Registering online for copyright is faster, cheaper and allows you to follow the progress of the processing online. Use Internet Explorer 6.0 or Firefox 2.0 as your browser, set to open new pages in a new window. Register an account with the Copyright Office electronically before you are able to fill out the online copyright forms.

Send a copy of your short stories once registration is complete. Following the directions on the Electronic Copyright Office website, you can do this either by emailing a digital copy of your short stories or printing your registration form and sending it with a hard copy of your work. If you are emailing a collection of short stories for copyright, place them together in a .zip folder before emailing.

Send a request for the Copyright Office to mail the paper forms to you if you experience any difficulty completing the registration online. The forms are not available through the website and will need to be specially requested. The fees for completing registration using paper forms is more expensive and may take longer for the office to process.

Consult with an attorney if you have any other questions, concerns or queries regarding copyright law in your state or province. Copyright laws can vary depending on where you are living.

Clarify when signing contracts with publishers what specific rights you are giving them. Some authors may wish to retain the rights for digital publishing or international publishing. For previously unpublished authors, it can be difficult to negotiate these rights with publishers unless you have a legitimate reason for your request.

Copyright is only available to fixed forms of original creative work, such as stories, songs, sculptures, paintings, graphics, etc. Copyright does not apply to plans, ideas or outlines of work that have not yet been completed. Be cautious when posting short stories on websites, chat rooms, group forums, Facebook or other social networking sites. Some authors are commisioned to write a short story for an anthology or collection of works. Pay close attention to contracts for these works, as writers do not always gain automatic copyright when hired or commisioned to write a story.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet Explorer 6.0
  • Firefox 2.0
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