Making a Claim

Copyright. It’s an important concept for any writer, creative, or organization. Because there are few things in life worse than getting robbed, I guard my work behind firewalls and encryption. I’ve been known to use vaults and safe deposit books too. This is probably silly. At times, I wonder if these barriers are simply a crutch. In reality, few really want to read my drivel. Unless a book or work has already become a success, most folks wouldn’t go to the trouble to steal it.

Yet, our laws are important in the digital era. Most folks understand the importance of the court system and have a view that taking a tangible object is blatantly wrong.

Years back, I was in a class fiercely debating software piracy with another professor and student (names will remain anonymous to protect the innocent). Their computer had illegal copies running Windows, Office, Adobe Acrobat, etc., Most have hard and fast rules about taking a physical object. If a window in your car is smashed and your radio gets ripped out, you hitch a ride downtown and file a police report. If you come across a lost wallet at the county fair, you try to find its owner.

To this day, I still marvel my classmate had no qualms with stealing the digital pieces that make the computer. A Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, after all, is an ugly brick without software.

Now, my views on software have evolved in the open source era. However, anyone on god’s green earth has the right to make a profit from a closed system. Pay a premium for a Mac. Buy a Windows computer. It is a competitive market. Choices matter. At times, I feel in the age of bits and bytes we’re not doing enough to protect consumer privacy and our own work. Our digital lives now have tangible effects. If you’ve ever had your identity stolen, it takes police reports, careful management, and hours of your time to restore order.

Also, in the age of self-publishing it’s not uncommon for someone to scrape an electronic book, resubmit the same work on Amazon as their own, and try to make a profit pilfering what they did nothing to bring into the world. Creating takes real work. These shameless folks that sit behind a computer and take what doesn’t belong to them, well, Dante wrote about a special place for you. Choose your level. Yes, trolls on Twitter belong here too. If you can’t make the argument in person, don’t make it. Hiding behind a computer is cowardly.

Recently, Microsoft wanted a Geneva convention to talk through the issues of cyber crime and identity. As an alum, I’m glad they did. No, they didn’t do this as some type of altruistic gesture. They make billions on software and services. This is an issue that effects the devices we love and cherish. For the good and the bad, our digital fingerprints are part of us.

In 2008, I submitted a copyright for the book Knights of Legend. It’s not a legal requirement, that little “c” symbol is all that’s required. Put it on your work of poetry, novel, or whatever else comes to mind and you’re covered. Yet, I wanted to make it official. So, I filled out a form with the Copyright office.

I waited.

Months passed.

I called and left messages.

Sent a letter.

Yet, I heard nothing.

Finally, I decided to call my Congressman’s office and ask for a little help. Now, we can complain about Congress all we want (my previous representative is up for indictment), but their offices have staffs in place to navigate the dark corners of government entities. Use them. We pay their salary. In most cases, they do a solid job. Except for the time my representative used campaign funds to go to Greece, I’ve rarely been disappointed.

A week later, my copyright seal was on its way (it got lost in the shuffle). To this day, I still have it.

Recently, I submitted another copyright claim for the Dark Harp. This time, it was completed online. I think it cost $30. The copyright office even e-mailed me a couple of times to ask clarifying questions and kept me informed of status. Yesterday, the certificate showed up in the mail. One fictional work and few pictures noted. No, I don’t need the seal, but it’s a guilty pleasure of mine to have the certificate. It means mission accomplished, job done, or it’s time to get started on another work.

So write something down, and then leverage your liberties. It’s important. Defend them always.

Other Notes

To submit a copyright on a song, novel, or novella, check out one of my favorite government entities.

Yes, Aaron Schock is up for indictment. His office helped me out and answered more than a few questions through the years. I give them props. But no, you can’t misuse funds on traveling or redecorating your office. It’s not a coronation. It’s a service job.

Microsoft’s Geneva Convention