Copyrighting poems

Fame is a bee
It has a song–
It has a sting–
Ah, too, it has a wing

skkott Emily Dickinson

Kevin S, Editor, New Poets Press writes:

First of all, the minute you create something in writing, it is automatically copyrighted. Yes, “automatically”. Everything that comes after that deals with “proving” the date you created it, but nothing you do will make it any more “copyrighted” than it was the minute you created it.

That’s why people say “email it to yourself”, because doing this will put a date-stamp on the poem so that if someone else were to use it at a later date, you could show that your copy pre-dates theirs. This is the easiest and least costly way to do it. You do NOT need a lawyer and the laws do NOT vary state to state…they’re Federal laws that protect your property…it’s why it’s called a copy “right”, not “copy write.” […]

The likelihood that someone will steal your poems and call them their own is slim, and if they do, you can’t do much about it anyway….

If you email the poems to yourself, print them out and put them in a binder so you’ll have a hard copy. Next, “save” your email to either your hard drive of your internet providers “saved mail” file. Really, that’s all you really need to do.

So, if it’s so easy, why do publishers make such a big deal about copyrights? Easy: money. It all boils down to money. When someone provides a publisher with a poem, the publisher is about to make an investment in that poem and wants to ensure it isn’t challanged by someone else who claims it was “their” poem. So a publisher will take greater steps to prevent law suits down the road. The reality is that the odds of someone stealing your poem and making any money off of it is very, very remote. For starters, there is not a lot of money in poetry, unless the poet is someone who’s already famous (Madonna, Paris Hilton, etc.). In those cases, the poem could be junk, but because it was made by “them”, it has the value of fame added, and thus is more likely to be “stolen”.

Copyrighting your poems (or writing a © on everything you write) is amateurish, and editors and other poets know this. Poetry is simply not lucrative enough to take time to steal. What would someone do with your poems? Sell them to inferior poets to pass off as their own? Not likely. When you publish a book your publisher will copyright the poems for you. Before that don’t worry about it.

Don’t spend a bunch of money protecting something that although valuable to you, probably has very little marketing value.

If you are really paranoid, you can do the “poor man’s” copyright–mail your poems to yourself and don’t open the envelope when it arrives–the postmark will serve as a sort of copyright, but this mayn’t hold up in the court. Or you can just email it to yourself.