Okay, not perfect maybe, but right at least some of the time.
Just read an article on copyright by an NYU professor, Siva Vaidhyanathan, writing in no less an authority than the Columbia University Journalism Review making the point we have made repeatedly in e-mails and in Basics columns in Talking Agents: “… one cannot protect facts and ideas, only specific expressions of ideas. Dan Brown and Random House U.K. prevailed in the London court because the judge clearly saw that the earlier authors were trying to protect ideas. Most people don’t understand that important distinction.” Certainly a lot of new authors do not. So let me say it again here COPYRIGHT is a protection for how you say, not what you say. “I never saw a purple cow, I hope I never see one” might be protected by copyright. That X has never seen a purple cows is a fact that can be appropriated by anyone who cares to do so.
And in the same vein, I was just sent a cri de coeur from a new and unpublished writer who got a circular through the mail from a decidedly scummy so-called literary agent - that’s an easy accusation to make because hell will freeze over before you get any kind of solicitation from a real one - and was trying to figure out which of the websites she logged on to had sold her name and address. Well number one, we have never passed on any aspect of our mailing list to anyone. Never. Ever. We never will. Period, end of story. Did you copyright your book we asked…
The reason that’s such a dangerous step to take is that it violates the convention. Publishers register the copyright in the names of their authors; authors do not do it for themselves. And the Library of Congress list of newly granted copyrights is a public record and as such available to one and all. So the scumbags run their grubby fingers down the list, pick up any copyright registered directly by the author, and figure, “Aha! A mark!”
I don’t usually approve of sentences that end in exclamation marks. But in this case, I all but see the villains rubbing their hands together and twirling their handlebar moustaches.