Writing Wednesdays: Protecting your copyright when you publish online

Do you know how to protect your novel when you post it online, or what to do if someone plagiarises it? In this post, I share some advice and talk about copyright.

Because I started out by publishing online to Wattpad, something I get asked about a lot is copyright when you publish a story online. Is there any? What do you do if people steal your work? Do you have to register or pay for something?

First things first: this isn’t something to get worked up about.

So how do you 'get' copyright for your book?

I can’t speak for other writing platforms, but on Wattpad there’s a dropdown menu specifically for copyright. When you create a new work, you’ll enter a title, a cover, a description, tags, mark whether or not it’s mature – and there’s a box for copyright.

I imagine other websites like Wattpad are the same, or at least very similar.

The option you want is most likely ‘All Rights Reserved’This marks the work as your own. 

You know when you get images online marked as ‘Creative Commons’? That’s an option for your story copyright. It means that someone else can take that work and edit and post it and they don’t have to credit you for it or pay you to be able to use it.

Which you don’t want. So go ahead and say ‘All Rights Reserved’.

To answer the other question I’m asked about this: no, you don’t have to pay for your copyright, or register yourself anywhere. That thing you created belongs to you.

And you know that page in the front of books where you see ‘Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved… This book is a work of fiction… Rights belong to AUTHOR and are distributed by PUBLISHER’ – or whatever that page says? You don’t need to worry about that either.

If you get published, the publisher creates that page.

If you publish online, you don’t need that page at all.

So don’t stress about that one either.

The other thing to talk about that worries people is what to do if someone steals your work and reposts it somewhere else without your permission or claims it as their own.

Now when you’re traditionally published, the publisher will have a whole team dedicated to dealing with piracy. They’ll handle any instances of illegal PDFs of your book or postings of the whole thing online.

But when you’re publishing online, you’re kind of on your own with this.

To be fair: this doesn’t happen a lot. It’s more the exception than the rule.

And lots of places, especially Wattpad, are great in that you’re not able to copy and paste work from the site, making it even harder for someone to repost.

I dealt with instances of people stealing my book when it was on Wattpad, and it made me feel sick to my stomach with panic every time, hoping I could sort it. Because it’s pretty damn awful when you think someone’s stolen this thing you’ve put so much heart and hard work into, claimed it as their own, and also that people are enjoying it and you don’t get the credit for that.

Here’s what to do when you find someone has stolen the work you’ve published online:

  • Look if there’s a ‘report’ button on the site the story is posted on. Check from a desktop, in case it just doesn’t show up on mobile. If there is a report button, click it and the site should take you through to find out why you want to report the story.
  • Find a contact page for the website. (If your story has been reposted on someone’s blog, there should at least be an ask box or a comment section.) Even if there’s a ‘report’ button, I’d recommend sending the site an email as well.
  • When you contact the site, explain the situation. I’ll post an outline/draft of what to say below, to give you a better idea, but explain that you’re a writer and you’ve posted a story on whichever site (and include a link to your book), then say that you’ve found a user on their site has reposted your story/claimed it as their own (again, include a link) and ask the website team for their help in getting the offending work removed from the site.
  • Specify if the work is EXACTLY the same, if they’ve used the plot but changed the characters’ names and made very minor changes but that it’s still your story.
  • Also include your contact details at the end of the message (especially if it’s an email form, rather than ‘here’s our email address to contact us’).
  • Assuming you took my earlier advice in this post and used the ‘All Rights Reserved’ copyright option on your book, mention this when you contact the website of the stolen work, too.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’d have said when I found someone had stolen and reposted The Kissing Booth:

To whom it may concern,I’m a writer on Wattpad.com, where I have posted my original work The Kissing Booth (LINK TO THE STORY ON WATTPAD). My story has All Rights Reserved copyright. It has been brought to my attention that a user on your site has reposted my work and claimed it as their own, word for word (LINK TO THE STOLEN STORY).I would greatly appreciate if you would have this work removed from your site as soon as possible.Thank you for your help,Beth Reeks(MY EMAIL ADDRESS)(LINK TO MY PROFILE ON WATTPAD)

Get the idea? So long as you’re clear about what’s happened and include links, the website team should be really helpful. I found it was always resolved within five days, but usually much quicker.

Like I said, though, getting your work plagiarised shouldn’t happen much, if at all; but if it does, keep a cool head and follow the steps I outlined above to deal with it.

(Of course, you could try to message to ‘writer’ directly and ask them to take the work down, but it’s more effective to let the website deal with it. If you message the person themselves, they might get defensive, might get into an argument… it’ll probably be more stress than they’re worth. But also, if they steal other people’s works, the website will already have a black mark against their name for the next time it happens.)

Do you have any worries about copyright when you publish your work online? Feel free to Tweet me, or drop a comment!

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