Mmegi Blogs :: ‘They’re going to steal my story!’
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Thursday 15 November 2018, 14:12 pm.
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‘They’re going to steal my story!’

This is one of the fears of many new writers. They can’t send out their short story or manuscript for a novel because they are positive the publisher or agent is going to steal their writing and claim it as their own. For unpublished work, this is nearly 100% NOT going to happen. Let me explain why.
By Lauri Kubuitsile Fri 24 Feb 2017, 16:57 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: ‘They’re going to steal my story!’








Botswana is one of the 172 states that are signatories of the Berne Convention of 1886 (adapted a few times since). The Berne Convention says that as soon as you “fix” your writing, your right to ownership is established. You have ownership of that work for your lifetime plus 50 years. What this means is as soon as you write your story down on a piece of paper or type it into your computer, you own it.

You are the only person who can copy that piece of writing and the only person who can allow others to copy it. With that copyright you have economic rights (the right to earn money from your work) and moral rights (the right to have the work identified as yours and the right to object to any manipulation of the work).  These rights are not just within the borders of Botswana but in every state which has signed the Berne Convention which is nearly every one on earth.

One caveat here: this copyright is only for original work. It does not cover ideas. If you’d like to write a story about aliens invading Gaborone and you tell someone and they write a story about aliens invading Gaborone, they have not stolen anything from you. In any case, even if the idea of the story is the same, the actual stories written by you and this person will be as different as the writer; this is the beauty of art. It is uniquely yours and that unique, original aspect is what copyright is meant to protect.

I’ve heard about writers in Botswana registering their unpublished stories and manuscripts at CIPA. You can do that but it does not give you any added legal protection. Also writing a copyright notice on your manuscript (i.e. Copyright @2017 by Lauri Kubuitsile) also adds no further legal protection beyond what is given by the Berne Convention.

You might only decide to do that in the Copyright Wild, Wild West aka the internet where people mistakenly believe copyright does not exist (it does!!). Doing this might educate potential thieves that your stuff is yours and cannot be used without permission.

Whatever you do, don’t put such

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a notice on your manuscript when submitting to publishers and agents; you look silly. By writing that, you are insinuating that they are potential thieves which is not a good foot to start off on if you would like to have them publish your work.

The best way to ensure your copyright is well established is to save various drafts of your work. Also save any emails or written discussions about the work. Send a copy of the work to a trusted friend. If, in the rare instance, your copyright is infringed these could be used in court. 

The reason I say that the fear of submitted, unpublished work being stolen by publishers and agents is nearly zero is because there is little to be gained by that envisioned thief. A reputable publisher or agent would be risking everything if they did that.

All you would need is to challenge them and since it is likely you will have a track record on your computer regarding the work, they would lose, and they would, very quickly afterward, be out of business. It makes more sense for them to just work with you.  And as for disreputable publishers and agents, they have no use for your work. They want your money. Stealing your work is of no interest to them.

Of course, once something is published the situation changes. For example, I have books that are used in schools in Botswana and in South Africa. There have been instances where I’ve been told my books are photocopied. This is a violation of my and my publisher’s economic rights. People who have no right to do this. This is illegal and, in this case, the thief has something to gain.

When your publisher publishes your manuscript, they will in all likelihood, register the work with the correct bodies on your behalf. It is to their advantage to ensure that the copyright is protected aggressively because they want to make their money back that they invested in the book. So in this case, though it would be more likely, your publisher will take care of it so there is not much use of you worrying about it.

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