As a member of many writers’ groups, I hear this one all the time. “I’m afraid to share my work, because it’s not copyrighted and someone might steal it.” Before we get into this, the correct phrasing is not “copyrighted” it is “copyright protected.” Let’s address both issues there: the misunderstanding of what is copyright protected, and the theft of intellectual property.
First, the thieving bit. Buttercup, sooner or later, if you publish anything, if you’re any good (and maybe even if you’re not), someone is going to steal your writing. It’s just part of life. Writers don’t ask each other IF anyone has ever stolen their work, they ask each other when last time was, and who the warty toad is.
Someone will steal your writing. Don’t let that stop you from publishing your work, and don’t let it stop you from sharing it with people who can help you improve. I’ve had writers approach me about becoming their editor, but they were paranoid, worried that I’d steal their stories. I’m not joking. And just to clear this up, too: editors do not steal stories. Yes, there are instances of manuscripts being rejected and then the same plot being published in another book. That’s a phenomenon whereby several people get the same idea at the same time. It happens often (and not just with writing), and it’s not someone stealing your idea. They probably got there first, or their rendition of it was better.
When a writer is afraid that I’m going to steal their work, that’s the end of the conversation right there. I can’t help someone if they won’t show me their work. I no longer spend a moment of my time on situations like that. I decided I can’t work with any authors who don’t trust me, and if they think I’m going to steal their work, that’s pretty much the definition of not trusting me. Life’s too short for some things. There are plenty of writers who trust me, and they get my time and attention.
Now to the simple, clear-cut definition of copyright protected. Note that it’s not the full, complicated, and legalese-filled definition that sometimes gets hashed out in court. I’ll leave that to intellectual property rights lawyers.
The simple statement is this: Any work (book, song, infographic, map, etc.) is copyright protected. It is copyright protected from the moment you create it. If you made it, you own it. You own the copyright, unless you sell or license it. If someone steals it or uses it without your permission, you have the right to do something about it. That’s when those confusing lawyers come into play. People need to get this through their heads, and stop thinking they don’t own the copyright to their own work. It’s “copyrighted.” I hate that term, because it’s incorrect; the correct term is copyright protected. If you wrote it, it’s under copyright protection. If you want an easy way to PROVE that you own the copyright, the best way is to register the copyright with the government.