Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ok, Copyright Infringement

We live in a digital age, when poets submit work to journals and contests via email, making it easier than ever to take digital copies of work and distribute them electronically without the author's permission.

For poets like me, this means that I have had work published without my permission twice. In both cases, the work published was a collection of poems rather than a single poem.

The logical step is to ask them to take it down. While internet publications will often disqualify you from other publication with the same work (especially in the case of single poems, editors were not willing to continue to consider them at most journals after they were published without my permission) I was lucky that the publishers who chose my manuscripts as winners of their chapbook contests were willing to take them even though they had been published by rogue internet publications without my permission.

What happens when a publisher continues, after a warning and plea to stop, to keep your work published online? Do you have any recourses to make them stop?

Yes. Your work is more valuable than you may know. It is protected, and even though poetry has very little "real world" value in most cases, infringing on your copyright is punishable with significant damages.

Yes, it's likely a non-profit that did it. Do you really want to bankrupt a non-profit?

I guess it depends on how big of assholes they were about it. For some poets, not being able to publish their work in the best venue possible means a major career obstacle and wasted contest fees. If a non-profit is cavalier about the real-world effect they have on a poet's life because of their illegal treatment of her work, they deserve a big wake-up call. Like getting sued.

It's easier than you might think to do it.

I found some very helpful pages that gave me a new understanding of my rights in this situation and I want to share them with you, fellow poets and publishers. (That's right, I'm a publisher too! See MisFit.)

An overview of copyrights.

Where to register your copyright, with lots of FAQs.

So here's my understanding from the overview and the copyright office.

1. As soon as you write a poem, it exists in a "fixed form" that can be communicated, say by email. You now own the copyright and are protected by copyright law.
2. If someone distributes or performs your poem in public, like on the internet, without your permission, that infringes your rights.
3. You can register your poem/collection and take action.
4. The remedies laid out in the overview I found are a. injunction b. damages c. statutory damages d. attorney's fees and e. impounding the infringing material.

So even though there may not be a cash number that you lose because of the infringement, statutory damages, according to the article, says you can collect at least $500 dollars of damages up to $20,000. If the court thinks the publisher/infringer did it on purpose, they could give you up to $100,000 dollars of damages.

That's right. The US government says your poem is worth at least $500 if somebody steals it.

Publishers, it is worth your time to be considerate of poets' rights!! You might not think that publishing without permission is a big deal, but if the poet does, and gets a lawyer, you could be fined big bucks! Get contracts, and keep track of them. This is serious. EDIT: Check out Fair Use Exemptions! I am a big fan of Fair Use.

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