You know me, I've got opinions out the wazoo. Today's opinion is on the copyright office and the ridiculous misconceptions they sure don't do much to dissuade.
You don't have to register your work. It's a silly waste of time and money.
Know why it's called 'copy' right? Not because you get to sell copies, though that is a perk of holding copyrights, yes. It's copyright 'cause it exists once you have a copy. You can't copyright an idea floating around in your head, but as soon as it *exists* in some form of copy, you're there. If you have a file on your computer, you've got a copy. It's yours. If you publish it on the web, bingo, you've published it, you have *proof* of copy. If you are concerned about being ripped off, protect your work in some manner (like not posting high-quality files), and make *record* of your proof.
That’s all the copyright office does for you, and instead of charging you the $1.00 for the blank CD, they nail you for $30 (or $40 or whatever it is now) and make a big deal about how convenient they’re making it for you to register everything at once. Oh, and if you don’t publish and they have to hang on to it for more than 5 years, they might try to charge you a few hundred dollars for ‘storage and handling.’
So why do they insist you need to have a registered copyright to file a lawsuit, should you be so unfortunate as to get ripped off? This is a gross simplification. No lawyer will touch your suit without proof, true. But if you march into a lawyer’s office with a dated CD full of high-resolution, un-compressed files trying to sue some shmuck with some crappy-quality jpgs with yesterday’s date and a badly Photoshopped signature selling t-shirts on the corner... the lawyer will probably still refuse your case ‘cause you aren’t going to get any money out of the poor sad pathetic fool anyway.
I digressed, of course, to make a point about lawyers and courts and money, which I do happen to have an equally dim view on. </digress>
If you have quality proof and can point at similar published work (by you) and you’ve got some pages of testimony from people who watched you paint the thing and the shmuck who stole your work has a later-dated file, no portfolio and no original either, guess who a court is going to rule in favor of? Frankly, do you think that a jury would care who filed a form with the copyright office in the face of that kind of evidence? I mean, geez, I have a pretty sour opinion about our legal system, but I’ve got *some* faith that these people aren’t morons. Some troll could be out there sending CDs of other peoples work into the copyright office right this second, for all the good it will do him. The only person who really makes out is, yes, the copyright office itself.
Most cases, of course, won’t be worth the hassle of getting to court. I’ll bet you cold hard cash that most cases are ‘solved’ with a simple cease and desist letter.
If someone has proof that I’m off my rocker, hit me with it! I’d be very interested in knowing about any experiences otherwise.
EDIT: And I have to stress, I sure don't mean to knock any of you who *do* register your copyrights. You know that, right? There is a certain amount of 'better safe than sorry' to it, and I gotta respect that.
As an unrelated side-note: I HATE Word's auto- 'smart' quotes.