RE: Is your documentation copyrighted?

Subject: RE: Is your documentation copyrighted?
From: Chuck Martin <CMartin -at- serena -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000 10:17:02 -0800


Both of these statements are not true, and I simply cannot let them pass
without correcting them. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am, however, a
writer who has spent some time in the past familiarizing myself with
copyright issues. I cannot say that I am completely up to date.

Put simply, copyrights are assessed once material is put in tangible form.
Material does not have to be published to be copyrighted. (As a side note,
ideas cannot be copyrighted, but expressions of ideas--once put in that
tangible form--can be.)

I have heard rumblings of changes in copyright laws, but I have not followed
up to see if those changes have been made. As of a few years back, anyway, a
copyright is good for 28 years. It can be renewed for another 28 years.
Anonymous work is copyrighted for 75 years. Copyright laws generally mirror
the Berne Convention, which is an international agreement on copyright that
most nations subscribe to. Some of the rumblings that I heard stemmed from
complaints that 2 28-year terms were too short, that writers were now living
long enough to see their old work pass into the public domain.

You can choose to register your copyright. Registration simply provides
additional potential benefits if you can prove someone stole any rights to
your work. Without registration, you can collect only actual damages.
Registration allows collection of punitive damages.

Registration of a copyright is no expensive, and the paperwork is not
difficult. You can register copyrights on more than one work with one
application (but I don't know if the fees are per work or per application).

By far *the* best book I found on copyrights is the now out-of-print book
"The Business of Being a Writer," by Stephen Goldin & Kathleen Sky. The
information is now out of date, but the explanations are clear as a bell. (I
wish they would update the book.)

If anyone has better, more recent knowledge of the specifics of copyright
law, please jump in and provide corrections. I believe the general outline
here is still correct, though.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: TrishGreen [mailto:TrishGreen -at- austin -dot- rr -dot- com]
> Sent: Tuesday, January 25, 2000 8:08 AM
> Subject: Re: Is your documentation copyrighted?
> Another common and extremely cheap and easy way to copyright
> your stuff is
> to simply stuff it into an envelope and mail it to yourself.
> ENVELOPE, when it comes in. It's the postmark that proves
> that you were the
> first to smith those words.
> Officially copyrighting documents isn't hard or expensive, but it does
> involve passing your work through the governmental process
> (takes some time,
> and there are forms to fill out), plus copyrights aren't
> perpetual. They
> must be renewed once each decade.

> ----- Exerpts from Original Message -----
> From: Mark L. Levinson <markl -at- gilian -dot- com>
> Subject: Re: Is your documentation copyrighted?
> > If I understand correctly, the issue isn't really whether
> > copyright exists. Copyright exists, implicitly, for
> > everything that's published and for much that isn't.
> > The issue is whether the copyright is registered, and
> > yes, registering it is a good idea, relatively simple,
> > and most often not done. If your copyright isn't
> > registered, you may find yourself in court opposing
> > someone who claims he wrote the same stuff first.
Chuck Martin
Sr. Technical Writer, SERENA Software

"People who use business software might despise it, but they are getting
paid to tolerate it....Most people who are paid to use a tool feel
constrained not to complain about that tool, but it doesn't stop them from
feeling frustrated and unhappy about it."
- "The Inmates are Running the Asylum"
Alan Cooper

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