Ever wonder why you rarely hear the famous Happy Birthday song in movies or on TV? Have you ever tried to find a musical birthday card that sings the real Happy Birthday song? Any luck?
Nowadays it’s almost common knowledge that the song “Happy Birthday to You” is under strict copyright laws. Violation of that law could get you slapped with a fee–and it seems the owners of this copyright are pretty strict about suing for their fees.
Copyright is something the average person doesn’t really think about, except in mocking the classic Happy Birthday song. However, for the average author, copyright is never far from their mind.
At each of the three writers’ conferences I’ve attended, copyright has come up at some point. At a lot of writers’ events I’ve attended, copyright questions have come up. At each of these things, talks have been given directly addressing copyright as it concerns the author.
What it really boils down to? Here are the things I’ve taken away from these talks. (But disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I do not offer this as any form of legal advice, etc., etc.)
- The moment you write something, it belongs to you. This goes for your novels, short stories, poems, blog posts, song lyrics, recipe instructions (not lists of ingredients), what you wrote in your mother’s birthday card. Technically, your mom couldn’t quote what you wrote without your express permission.
- The US Copyright Office will register your original works for a small fee (I think around $30US). This isn’t much, and if you’re someone who would be concerned about someone stealing your work, then by all means, do it.
- If you register your work for copyright, it’ll be easier to prove you owned it to begin with, and you’ll get better compensation if someone were to profit from their theft. You may even get your legal fees covered.
Those are the main things I walked away with, but almost everyone that spoke on copyright (with the exception of one ill-informed indie author), also warned that there was very little chance anything of yours would be stolen and your “automatic” copyright would be infringed.
So the gist of this? Well, if you really worry about theft, spend the 30 or 40 bucks to get your piece copyrighted. Maybe if you wrote the next Twilight + Harry Potter + Hunger Games, it will come in handy when the guy next door tries to convince Hollywood he wrote it.
But in reality, chances of you needing to use that copyright is slim, and you can probably get by without worrying about it. That said? Heck, the US Government could really use your money. I hear we’re pretty badly in debt.