Us Canadians have it easy. We write a work; it’s copyrighted. It’s not only copyrighted here but also in all the countries with which Canada has copyright relations, by being a member of the Berne Convention, including the United States. However, many of us Canuck authors can’t get attention from Canadian publishers if we streaked naked through their offices, and we end up with American publishers or support self-publishing. But there’s a tiny problem with that. If you want to access to legal means of protecting your work, you have to register it with the US Copyright Office.
I discovered this little problem when I recently learnt about the Google Book Settlement.
If you first published your book in Canada or any other country outside of the US that’s a signatory to the Berne Convention, you can certify you have authority to claim your book. However, no matter where you live, if you first published your book in the US, you can only make a claim if your book meets the definition of a United States Work. The key to that definition is that your book or insert was registered with the United States Copyright Office before 5 January 2009.
“A book is a United States work if it meets the definition of “United States work” under the U.S. Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. § 101. In general, a work is a United States work under the Copyright Act if it was first published in the United States; or was first published simultaneously in the United States and a treaty party (i.e., a country with which the United States has copyright relations) that has the same or longer term of protection as the United States; or was first published simultaneously in the United States and a foreign nation that was not a treaty party; or was first published in a foreign nation that was not a treaty party and all of the authors of the work are nationals, domiciliaries, or habitual residents of the Untied States. If you have questions about whether your book qualifies as a United States work, please consult counsel.
If your books are United States works and were not registered with the United States Copyright Office as of January 5, 2009, then those books are not covered by the Settlement Agreement, and you would not be releasing any claims you may have against Google with respect to those books (i.e., you retain the right to sue Google for copyright infringement for those books).” From the Google Book Settlement Website FAQ (italics, bold mine).
Unfortunately, those of us ignorant of this Settlement in the works prior to Notice being given and ignorant of the convoluted way US Copyright law works — you have copyright unless someone steals your work, then you only have legally-enforceable copyright if you’ve registered with the government, cause we the US government prefer the stupid-lawyer way rather than the common sense way — probably don’t have our works registered and therefore can’t make a claim against Google.
However, it still pays to spend the $35US (and we thought us Canadians were taxed to death) to register copyright of your book only if you published in the US first in case some other behemoth or little plagiarist decides to steal it. Without that registration, you cannot recoup the money they’ve made on your work neither can you sue for your own legal costs in pursuing them. And do not assume, like I did, that the American company publishing your work has registered it because they may not have. In fact, that’s a good mantra for life: never assume, always check first.