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Self-Publishing: Plagiarism & Copyrights

All of us indie and self-publishing authors wield the power to share our stories and ideas independent of outside pressures. However, this freedom comes with the responsibility of safeguarding our work against craptastic people who would plagiarize and infringe on our writing. It ain't fun, but it's worth chatting about. So here goes...

Self-Publishing: Plagiarism & Copyrights

Please note that while I may make suggestions based on my experience, the information and suggestions presented here are not legal advice. For more information, see the disclaimer at the bottom of this post.



AN OVERVIEW

Before upgrading into DEFCON 1, it's important to understand plagiarism and copyright, and how they differ.


Plagiarism: Plagiarism occurs when someone claims your work as theirs. This happens when one person reproduces a second person's ideas, words, or creative work without proper attribution, passing it off as their own.

Hint: A subtle watermark for shared documents, excerpts, or samples can make your work harder to plagiarize.


Copyright: Copyright infringement happens when someone else copies and shares your work without your permission. The concept comes down to unauthorized use, reproduction, or distribution of art (your words) that belongs to you.

Hint: Keep digital records of drafts, revisions, and correspondence with readers, writers, editors, and collaborators. These records help substantiate your claims in the event of a copyright dispute. Simple things like emailing docs yourself to yourself or a trusted friend provides a great time-stamped reference.



REGISTERING COPYRIGHT

While copyright protection is automatic upon creation, registering your copyright with the appropriate government agency provides additional legal benefits and protections. In the United States, registering your copyright with the Copyright Office creates a public record of your ownership and allows you to pursue legal action against infringers.

International copyright offices can be found in the Directory of Intellectual Property Offices.



COPYRIGHT NOTICES

Incorporate copyright notices prominently in your indie/self-published works to signal your ownership and provide the minimum deterrent to potential infringement. A copyright notice typically includes the © symbol, the year of publication, and your name or the name of your publishing entity. I publish under my limited liability company, Atomix Publishing, LLC. The following are what I use for my webpage and novels:


Webpage Example:

©2024 by Atomix Publishing, LLC



Novel Example:

Copyright © 2023 by Atomix Publishing, LLC


All rights reserved


No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.



ISBNs

ISBN registers your work with a unique identifier that is upheld by your territory’s ISBN provider. The creation of an ISBN automagically copyrights your material, meaning that you own it, full stop, no questions asked. I have read (I am not a lawyer) that registering your art may give you protections legally. Here's a bit about my experience with ISBNs.



VIGILANCE

Some authors are overly concerned about infringement on their material. Others are 100%, hands down, worry-free. Big publishing houses have whole devisions devoted to it. We indie and self-pubbed authors make up most, if not all of the devisions in our own publishing house. Only you can choose how much energy you want to put into discovering and combatting unauthorized uses of your websites, social media channels, and published works. It takes vigilance, which can distract you from your main purpose, which is to create your spectacular verbal art.


TOOLS

You can use online tools and services that specialize in detecting plagiarism and copyright infringement to identify and address potential violations. Here are a few services you can use (not endorsed):

  • Turnitin: ($$$$) A widely-used plagiarism detection service used by academics.

  • Copyscape: ($25/monthA web-based plagiarism tool to detect online data.

  • Grammarly: Free for smaller word count or free plagiarism detection along with premium grammar packages. This is the one I use occasionally because I already have a Grammarly subscription.

  • Let me know if you've tried other checkers and I'll add them here with attribution.


Digital Rights Management: Digital rights management (DRM) tools protect digital copies of your work from unauthorized copying, sharing, or distribution. DRM allows you to encrypt your e-books and control access to your content, providing an additional layer of security. I have no experience with these, so I won't comment on tools.

Content ID Systems: Explore content identification systems such as Google's Content ID or YouTube's Content ID, which are designed to identify and manage copyrighted content across online platforms. These systems can help you track and manage the use of your content online, including instances of unauthorized use or infringement. Google and YouTube are free, so why not use them over other expensive tools.



DISPUTES

In theory, it would be great to sue the asses off of copycats and bots who use our work without permission. In practice...not so much. Settling disputes through legal channels is an expensive and time-consuming process. Protecting yourself from infringement in other countries is downright impossible for us. Auto-checkers don't work in different languages. In countries like China, copyright is like a single fly swatter against a million flies.

This can be disheartening to hear, but there is another way to stop unlawful publishing of your content on marketplaces like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Here are some resources:



PROTECT YOURSELF

As Indie/self-published authors, safeguarding our work against plagiarism and copyright infringement is our responsibility rather than a publisher's. This puts a ridiculous amount of responsibility and an unrealistic time-sink us. Do what you can with what limited information you have.

If you think your work has been plagiarized or your copyrights have been infringed, there is no substitute for professional legal advice, not the word of some random dude you found online. By taking proactive steps to register your copyright and include copyright notices, monitor your work, utilize DRM tools and content ID systems, and stay informed about copyright law, you can reduce some of the risk. These tools might give you some piece of mind to focus on the rest of our unending list of responsibilities.



DISCLAIMER

The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you feel like you are in need of aid, consult a qualified legal professional specializing in intellectual property law for personalized guidance and assistance tailored to your specific situation.



FAQ

Q. Why is it important to protect my work from plagiarism and copyright infringement?

A. Protecting your work ensures that you retain control over your intellectual property, preserve your creative legacy, and prevent others from profiting off your ideas without permission.


Q. How can I determine if my work has been plagiarized or infringed upon?

A. You can use online plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin, Copyscape, or Grammarly to scan your work and compare it against online content for similarities. Additionally, regularly monitoring your work online can help identify unauthorized use or reproduction.


Q. What steps can I take to prevent plagiarism and copyright infringement?

A. Register your copyright, include copyright notices in your work, utilize digital rights management (DRM) tools, and license your work thoughtfully. Keeping detailed records of your creative process and staying informed about copyright law are also essential preventive measures.


Q. Can I use copyrighted material in my own work without permission?

A. It depends on the specific circumstances and whether your use falls under fair use or other exceptions to copyright law. In general, it's best to obtain permission from the copyright owner or use material that is in the public domain or licensed for reuse.


Q.. What should I do if I discover plagiarism or copyright infringement of my work?

A. Contact the infringing party directly to request removal or cessation of the unauthorized use. If necessary, send a cease-and-desist letter, file Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices with online platforms, or seek legal advice to enforce your rights.


Q. How can I protect my work when sharing it online or submitting it to publishers?

A. Consider watermarking digital copies of your work, using secure file formats, and only sharing excerpts or samples as needed. Be cautious when sharing unpublished or sensitive material and ensure that you retain ownership and control over your work.


Q. Is self-publishing more vulnerable to plagiarism and copyright infringement compared to traditional publishing?

A. Self-publishing may pose unique challenges in terms of monitoring and protecting your work, but both self-published and traditionally published authors can be affected by plagiarism and copyright infringement. Vigilance and proactive measures are essential regardless of the publishing method.


Q. Can I prevent others from using my ideas or concepts without permission?

A. Copyright protects the expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. While you can't copyright ideas, you can protect the specific expression or manifestation of those ideas in your work.


Q. How can I ensure that my work remains original and does not inadvertently infringe upon others' copyrights?

A. Conduct thorough research to ensure that your work is original and does not closely resemble existing copyrighted material. When in doubt, seek permission or consult with legal professionals to assess potential risks.


Q. Where can I find additional resources and support for protecting my work from plagiarism and copyright infringement?

A. Organizations such as the Copyright Alliance and the United States Copyright Office offer valuable information, guidance, and resources for authors navigating copyright law and protecting their intellectual property rights. Additionally, legal professionals specializing in intellectual property law can provide personalized assistance and advice tailored to your specific needs and concerns.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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