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Last week I met three people who didn’t know what copyright was. Oh, they’d all heard the word before, but one thought it was just the date of publication, and the other two? Well, they didn’t really think about it all that much.

Why is this exceptional? Because usually it’s only one or two.

Imagine for a moment that you wrote a book, and that someone borrows a copy of it, reads it and then starts making copies with your name removed that he gives to everyone he meets. Everyone. And when you tap him on the shoulder, he says, “Your work is so good! Everyone should read it!” and sure enough, everyone is. Not just his gran or his little-sister, which you might be okay with. Everyone.

Meanwhile your publisher says there’s not enough sales for you to get a royalty cheque this quarter. Next quarter? Not looking so good either.

Imagine another who is charging people for those copies, and he’s put his name on it. And he thinks that’s okay too. The book is on his shelf, and he needs some cash. Selling it would help. Selling lots of copies of it would help even more. But selling all those copies with your name on it would be rude. Indeed it would. He’s doing nicely out of it, though, but your publisher doesn’t have any cash for you.

Third scenario. Someone copies your book, and submits it to his publisher. His publisher pays him and prints it and starts selling it. They discover your book, and file a notice that you’re breaching their copyright. Nobody’s happy, who’s material came first isn’t going to become legally clear until the legal process is under way, oh, and your contract with the publisher makes you liable for the costs.

(Bonus points for scenario three: While you’re battling it out with the other publisher, he submits another one of your books for publication)

For the next three scenarios, rinse and repeat, only they reworded or added one or two sentences.

For scenario seven, we turn to the publisher. They rename your book “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon” and change the lead character’s name to Luke Skywalker. Seriously. Remember that contract that makes you liable for the costs? Oh, you can file a suit to get the money back from the publisher (sometimes), but really, you’re a writer. You’re going to go broke before you finish paying for the suit against your publisher, let alone be able to afford one of your own.

And in every case, someone actually thought “Hey! This is an okay thing to do!

Some form or variant of every one of these has happened to someone I know. Sometimes it has been me. I’m strong on copyrights and protection. With good reason.

Everywhere you look, people are talking about copyrights, trademarks, intellectual property, and DMCA takedown notices these days. On blogs, in the newspapers and on TV. So just how is it that we seem to have so many people who don’t seem to know the first thing about it?

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