The Copyright Symbol and Your Submissions

During the PAD Challenge, I noticed quite a few poets including either the word Copyright or the copyright symbol–a C inside a circle. While I understand the fear of someone stealing your work and may have even done that with my own fiction and poetry earlier on as a writer, I want you to know you don’t need to include those markings, especially when you’re submitting your poetry to journals and magazines to be published.

Reason #1: People don’t tend to steal other people’s poems. It’s just not profitable AND if someone were so inclined, they would steal the poem whether you include the symbol or not. Once you set your writing down in fixed form, it is protected by copyright. But after more than 8 years working on Writer’s Market, I have yet to hear of a case where an unknown poet has to take his or her poetry copyright case to court. (Of course, saying that, I do realize that there’s a first for everything. For more info on copyright, go to http://www.copyright.gov/).

Reason #2: Adding the copyright symbol does not increase your chances of getting published. There is no editor who sees the copyright symbol attached and thinks, “Yay! We’ve got a copyright symbol; let’s get this issue out now!” In fact, it often hurts your chances, because…

Reason #3: Adding the copyright symbol to your submission marks you as an amateur and as a poet who is paranoid that the editor will steal your work. While an editor would still accept exceptional work from a poet who includes the word Copyright or the copyright symbol, be aware that those markings will distract most editors from reading your work–even if just the tiniest bit.

So that’s my practical advice about including the copyright symbol and/or the word Copyright. It doesn’t decrease your chances of having your work stolen, but it does increase the chance your work won’t be accepted. So, why do it?

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13 thoughts on “The Copyright Symbol and Your Submissions

  1. Michelle H.

    Thank you Robert – great advice and thanks for breaking it to me gently! (smile) I’ve been writing poetry for years but never published anything – it’s just for myself. This website and the other forum you set up are also my first time "blogging"? "posting" "chatting"- I’m a complete newbie all the way around. See I don’t even know what to call all this!!!
    Part of it comes from being a very private person – but I did get braver as the month went along – I even included my last name! Thanks for everything!
    Michelle Hed

  2. Don Swearingen

    Beware! Copyrighted!
    This here poem is copyrighted!
    I got it right here from the government!
    You can’t use it no matter how delighted
    You are with it, without my consent.
    It’s a work of genius, and everybody’s brother
    Is trying to steal it away from me
    And no matter what you Druther
    You can’t publish it without asking me!
    It’s wonderful, as anyone can plainly tell,
    The rhyme is perfect, the meter dances.
    The language sings just like a bell,
    It soars, it flies, it wings romance!
    Oh please, please publish this!
    And fill my copy righted heart with bliss!

    Okay, it’s bad.

  3. Carol - Amherst

    Thank you Rob for addressing this. I am so new to this business, I had the same fears, and questions about how do you protect your stuff. Very useful piece of information. – Carol

  4. Robert Brewer

    O, I haven’t forgotten the highlights. Actually, I was on vacation over the weekend.

    Also, the Wednesday prompts will be here. 🙂

  5. luc simonic

    i agree with you robert. i think it’s silly when i see this on people’s blogs etc…

    however, i thought that i would point out that it may not be unprofitable to include your publishing name in posts on the internet or your blog, but primarily for search engine self serving purposes – i do it sometimes…

    also, i have an annoying little habit of including ~lds(year) at the end of my poems. not as a copyright (C) type thing, but because i want to remember what year i wrote it, and also because i think it is curious that my initials LDS are the same as the mormon church. i find it ironic time and time again.

    🙂

  6. Cheryl Wray

    I think it’s great that you mentioned this. I have taught magazine article classes in the past and have addressed the same issue. Using the copyright symbol really does nothing to help in a practical manner.

    Looking forward to seeing some more highlights too!

  7. Tonya Root

    Thanks for posting this, Robert. There is a lot of confusion – especially here on the internet – regarding copyright. It’s always a good subject to touch on now and then, especially for newbies or "re-newbies" such as myself.

    On another note, I’d lie to second Bruce in saying I hope we get to finish out the month of highlights.

  8. Bruce Niedt

    Thanks for bringing up this issue, Robert – I was going to mention it to fellow poets but I didn’t want to come off sounding arrogant. You handled the matter tactfully and sympathetically.

    On another subject, have you abandoned the PAD daily "highlights"? Now that April is history, I realize you’re under no obligation to post the best/favorites of the rest of the month, but I’m a little disappointed not to see them. First, I’ve been a bit too lazy or time-crunched to read all of the 100+ poems that were posted daily. (I can’t imagine how you found time to do it!) Second, it was a great "stroke" for us poets you selected as the best each day. It’s entirely up to you of course, but I’d like to see you resurrect that feature.

  9. Nancy

    Who would steal poems? High school creative writing students! I had one last year try to pass Edward Gorey’s alphabet off as her own. When another of her poems seemed far more polished that anything she had written, I found it online. Her answer: someone must have stolen it from her and posted it online under another name.

    Being a writing teacher means being a detective.

    Will Wednesday prompts be here or at the other link?

  10. Rosemary Nissen-Wade

    Thanks, Robert, from one who did it. I did not of course imagine you would wish to steal my work!

    In Australia, when I was a young poet, I was advised that it is only within this country that ‘Once you set your writing down in fixed form, it is protected by copyright’ but that for international use one had better include the symbol © and the year.

    And I was encouraged to use it – as a mark of professionalism, not amateur status – back in the heady early days of the Poets Union of Australia (late seventies – early eighties) when we wanted to establish the fact that writing poetry was our work, and worth taking seriously, and were also asserting the right to be paid for it. That was when publication and performance were largely unpaid – editors and venue managers thought the honour and glory should be enough for us and we oughta be jolly grateful to boot.

    I’ve been doing it for so long now, it’s just habit. It has not so far prevented me from getting published, but I’m glad to know it isn’t actually necessary. And of course you’re right: in the ridiculously unlikely event that someone wanted to steal someone else’s poem, they would anyway.

    It’s more the already-published poems that get stolen, not with malice aforethought but sheer ignorance, copied by people who like them to pass on to others. It used to be by teachers for students too, but I think most institutions of learning now record such use for the Public Lending Right people. In this country it’s required by law.

    Now that I’m choosing to blog my poems or publish in online journals rather than submit to hard copy literary mags, on the theory that one actually reaches more people this way, I dare say it’s an even sillier practice. If reaching people is the aim, copyright could be seen as counter-productive.

    Thanks for waking me up!

  11. Mike Barzacchini

    Robert, glad you addressed this issue. The same advice was given by my college creative writing teacher more than 20 years ago. In that class, we had students not only place the copyright symbol on their homework, but also often write "first serial rights." As my own twisted commentary on this practice, I’d often write "first cereal" or "first cornflake" rights on my homework submissions. Just as effective, but twice as delicious!

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