Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

A Copyright Scam

On Facebook and Other Places…

You know how really stupid writers are about copyright when some company can offer a way to make money off of the writers by sounding stupid and using terms wrong.

The scam I have seen numbers of times now is that a company will offer to “Copyright Your Work” for you for a measly $99.00 plus fees.

Not kidding. (I bet those of you who understand copyright just shook your heads.)

And I got a hunch the scam artists on this one have a lot of takers. All writers too stupid to realize that the moment they wrote their story in some form, it was automatically protected under copyright laws around the world.

In other words, it was already under copyright protection, (or for the idiots out there, it is copyrighted).

And if you want to register it for some reason or another for extra protection, simply go to Google on how to register a copyright and you will find for the United States

You do not have to register a work to have it protected under the copyright laws.

But, of course, for this scam, the prime target is the writer who has spent years and years writing and rewriting that masterpiece and who is about to send said masterpiece off to a person with a business card who calls themselves an agent (also usually scams).

These sad souls will pay the $99 plus the government fee they could pay themselves if they knew how to use Google. And they will get on every sucker mailing list (because their information will be sold) and be prime for other scams.

It stuns me every time that in this new world of information how purposefully ignorant many writers want to be and work to remain.

Ahh, well… I suppose if it makes them happy to pay the money and feel “protected” by the certificate they get, I shouldn’t say anything. But I’ll bet not a one of them would even check to see if their work was actually registered or not by the scam artists who took money for the fee. Why would the writer check? They got the certificate saying their work was copyrighted. (snort)

Just had to say something about that scam that I have seen spring up in the last five years and get worse these last few years.

I will stop now.

Monthly Regular Workshops…

For those of you who want to keep learning in both business and craft, we have a great group of workshops in July. (And yes, the Magic Bakery deals a lot in copyright.)

You can find the workshops under Online Workshops to the right of this post. Sign up for July on For credits or workshops beyond July, write me.

Each regular workshop is 6 weeks long.

Again, it will take you about three hours per week on your own pace to do each of these if you do the assignments. These are the starting dates of upcoming regular workshops.

All have openings at the moment.

Class #1… July 10th … Depth #3: Research
Class #2… July 10th … Author Voice
Class #3… July 10th … Dialog
Class #4… July 10th … Writing into the Dark
Class #5… July 10th … Writing Fiction Sales Copy
Class #6… July 10th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #7… July 11th … Depth in Writing
Class #8… July 11th … Business
Class #9… July 11th … Writing Fantasy
Class #10… July 11th … Information Flow
Class #11… July 11th … Magic Bakery
Class #12… July 11th … Advanced Depth

Again, if you don’t have credits, sign up direction at Teachable.




  • Dee

    At the risk of showing my own ignorance, couldn’t this get worse?
    Although the work is copyrighted automatically by its creation, registering the work does give a small bit of legal leg to stand on.(Is my understanding)
    Let’s say the scam actually registers the piece. What prevents them from registering it under their own ownership? (other than their clear upright and moral nature, of course.)
    And, heaven forbid, do you have to sign or agree to anything with your payment that might give them the RIGHTs to do so?

    • dwsmith

      Dee, yes, Leah said that as well and I agree. Chances are there is something in their TOS that allows that. So yes, it could get much, much worse and likely does. I have not gone into it and have no desire to. Impossible to protect writers from their own stupidity I’m afraid. And in publishing, between traditional publishing contracts, agents, and things like this, the stupidity is beyond words. (However, I do toss a few words at it at times.(grin)

  • Harvey

    Good post. For an extra fee, they might even get you an LCCN. (grin)

    (Dean here… Harvey, I had to cut the rest of your good post, even though I agree with it, for liability issues. Sorry.)

  • Leah cutter

    It’s worse than that Dean. Could the scam artists actually register the work, hold onto the paperwork, then, if the writer did manage to strike it big, could they muddy the copyright? Claim it was their IP?

    We tend to register the first of every series for extra protection. And when Hollywood comes around, we’ll register everything asap.

    • dwsmith

      Very good point, Leah. And very likely. Sadly.

      Yes, registering first in series is a good idea. We also do that. And anything that gets near gaming or Hollywood is registered.

      • Amy

        A question on that – in Australia, there is no copyright register/system of copyright registration (the copyright council specifically clarifies what you say in your post – that copyright is free and instantaneous). However, both Leah and Dean have mentioned here registering in the case of Hollywood or gaming interest. If, in the happy instance that I ever had Hollywood knocking on my door, do either of you have a recommendation of what I might do, given I can’t formally register copyright in AU?

        Thanks 🙂

        • dwsmith

          If you get approached by Hollywood, send a copy of what they are looking for to the Screen Writer’s Guild. That should be enough.

          Outside Hollywood, not a clue. Just keep very good records and do everything by email and print up the emails.

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Scams and con men abound, too true. Lately I’ve had marketing scammers calling me on the phone with offers to feature “my book” (ha! which one? I have way more than a single title) at their table at the Frankfort Book Fair. The first caller went on and on about the book fair (apparently assuming—incorrectly—that I didn’t know what it was and that once I understood its wonders, of course I would want to pay them boatloads of money to “represent my book”).

    I listened for a while, figuring that I should make sure it was a scam and not a legitimate offer, but after the rep had spent a full minute without cutting to the chase, or even explaining clearly who he was and who he represented, I figured it had to be a scam and disconnected the call. I recognized the line in the next few callers almost immediately. Feh!

  • Philip

    This is sad. The publishing world is loaded with scams, especially in this golden age of indie publishing. It reminds me of the old saying, the people who made the most money during the gold rush out west were the people who sold picks and shovels.

    You said it best, registering is an extra layer of protection because we all (should) know your work is protected at creation. That said, I would recommend registering your work (directly, not with a scam firm) with the feds if you don’t plan to publish it because you put the world on notice that your idea was yours in case, to use the Harlan Ellison example, you might write the next Terminator on a lark but for some reason never publish it.

    • dwsmith

      Philip, sigh, you can’t protect ideas. Sorry. Go learn copyright, please. Harlan won that suit and others because of other reasons, not the ideas.

      • Philip

        I’m not sure if you misread my comment or I wasn’t clear enough. Here’s a simpler version of what I was saying:

        1. Yes, you are correct, Dean. You work is protected on creation.

        2. Yes, you are correct, Dean. Registering a copyright can bring peace of mind.

        3. I think authors should register their work with the copyright office because it creates legal notice which is REQUIRED for litigation of a breach.

        4. I used the Terminator example as a bad analogy. What I meant is let’s say you invent Unique Character A and write a story about Character A but NEVER publish it OR register it with the copyright office. Later, Hollywood produces a ripoff of Character A that perhaps you know someone in a back channel had access to. You’re screwed because all you have is a Word file.

        • dwsmith

          Not true, Philip. The work is protected the moment you put it to form. So you are not screwed in any form. Not sure why you think you would be?

          • Anon

            It is my understanding (and do please correct me if I’m wrong) that you have to actually publish a book in some form before you can copyright it. I think there’s a provisional copyright you can do, but it’s with the expectation that you will soon publish and doesn’t become official until you publish. So even if you wrote a book, you couldn’t copyright it until it was published. (Again, do correct me if I’m wrong there.)

            I intend to register copyright for all my books. The fee for doing so is not, to me, enough to make it worth ignoring the potential benefits (even if the benefits only come into play under circumstances which may never happen). In addition to the usual reasons, Amazon has been forcing a lot of people to prove their copyright or their books get taken down. So far, there are apparently ways to do that without having an actual copyright registration. As with everything Amazon does, that could change at any time. May as well have a proof of registration handy, especially if the problem arises because someone else is trying to claim to Amazon that *they* own your book.

            (But I don’t put out dozens of works per year.)

          • dwsmith

            Anon, you are very, very wrong. Very wrong. Please go get a copy of the Copyright Handbook.

            In short, say you wrote a page of your novel. That page is protected under copyright. And you do not need TO DO ANYTHING EVER. Your work is protected automatically.

            Please, please go get the Copyright Handbook.

          • Anon

            No, I know about your work automatically being protected as soon as it’s in tangible form. (And yes, I already have a copy of that book and have read it.) I’m talking about copyright registration with the government. When I said “copyright it” I meant “register a copyright”. I guess I assumed that since you’d already vehemently clarified many times here that you don’t need to register to have a copyright, it was clear what I meant. I read Philip’s original comment as suggesting that once you write a book, register the copyright even if you don’t publish it. My understanding is that you can’t register the copyright until you publish it. That’s the point I was trying to make/address.

            Simply responding to all comments and questions about copyright registration with “you don’t need to register to have a copyright” is not really addressing the point.

          • dwsmith

            I answered what you asked. So being clear is important and using correct terms. Just saying. Please don’t blame me for your poor communication.

            Now to answer your question, yes, I think (but I did not take the time to simply google it and go to the US Gov web site where that question can be answered easily) you can send them just a manuscript. Not at all sure why you would want to, but if there was a good reason, sure, it can be done. Publication, I am fairly certain is not a requirement for registration.

    • George K

      Philip, as Dean said ideas are not protected (and neither are titles I believe) and Ellison won again as Dean also says for other reasons. One of those reasons is that Cameron admitted to a REPORTER from Starlog magazine that he had (and I quote) “cribbed a couple of Harlan Ellison stories”. which immediately counts as a confession and admission of guilt— and to a member of the media no less.

      Before Stephen King wrote “ Christine” there was a short story in a 60s horror anthology from a British author ( I can’t remember his name) who wrote a short story about an evil car that tried to kill a pedestrian against the wishes of the driver. The steering wheel would not allow itself to be turned by the driver at that time. It was a short story and there wasn’t much more to it than that.
      Stephen might have read that story when he was a kid collecting piles of horror paperbacks growing up in Maine but because ideas are not copyrighted it was fine. Or he might have watched the comedy “My mother the car” on tv.. Though the idea might be striking it is not a “ whole story”:

      Where you get in trouble is when your book approaches increasing similarities to the other book in many instances in story progression to such a point that a “ reasonable person “ reading the book sees not only the main idea is the same but the plot and smaller ideas in the story (say subplots) and characters and plot points etc are the same in such a way that it is obvious that you copied the other story.

      Stephen took the general idea of “an evil sentient car” and made it into a detailed and complex high school horror drama tale about a lonely kid growing up with school bullies and other enemies and teenage love angst (I think the car was in love with the kid too) and a specific story progression that had nothing to do with the original short story.

      So if I wrote a story about a “ school of young teen wizards” it might be called “ derivative” by critics who know Harry Potter but it’s not copyright infringement or stealing. However if as my story progresses in such a way that the similarities to Rowling’s book increase from that starting point so that you have more and more similarities, then I could be in trouble. In the first case I got an idea that is the same but in the second case I started copying the story progression of Harry Potter..

      Where is the dividing line? Its where the similarities are so numerous that a “reasonable person” sees it as the same or almost same story. In such cases a jury or judge decides. Ideas can’t be copyrighted but DETAILED stories can be.

      Cameron’s bragging that he had “ cribbed” helped Ellison win (ie admitting that it was his intention to steal in the first place). Because of that it was easier to prove a willful and thus illegal and actual INTENT to infringe even if terminator otherwise would have been considered merely derivative and not infringing (as some have argued because the film is different in many details than the 2 HE stories).

      (For the record I personally believe Cameron is an odious man that in my opinion produces films that are carelessly derivative ( Avatar similar to the novella Call MeJoe) But because they are different enough from the original material and he has learned to keep his mouth shut he has managed to avoid further legal problems. )

      Avatar and Call Me Joe both star a paraplegic “telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet ”

      PS I say “ odious” because unlike Stephen King I believe Cameron is doing it in bad faith. King liked an idea and write a novel about it. Cameron liked an idea borrowed it from a book and changed it just enough for it to be derivative and not infringing. Of course my belief that he is doing this could be colored by his previous confession over the Ellison stories years before Avatar.

      • Philip

        I get it. My original post was not precise enough, so it didn’t communicate what I meant (I should be more careful when I discuss law because, well, I’m actually a lawyer–yikes). Thanks for the backstory on the Terminator ordeal. Interesting stuff.

        • dwsmith

          Philip, LOL… I have three years of law school and am not an attorney. So after 40 years of writing fiction since that time, imperfect language is my life. (grin)

  • Ross

    It’s just sad how many new writers (and older ones who should know better) think that “all that business stuff” is boring and that they just don’t have a head for it. Copyright is our greatest protection for our work, sand far too many of us know far too little about it.

  • Diane Darcy

    …you can’t protect ideas. Sorry. Go learn copyright, please. Harlan won that suit and others because of other reasons, not the ideas.

    I know this, so I’ve never understood why Hemdale and Orion Pictures settled with Harlan. The Terminator script didn’t plagiarize any of his words. From what I’ve read, Harlan filed suit because of the IDEA being the same. So??? I don’t get it. Did they just settle to get the lawsuit to go away?

    • dwsmith


      For numbers of reasons. Keep in mind Hollywood is a different animal and the writers are protected by the SWG, which has real teeth. Harlan always registered his work with the Guild and with the copyright office, as all screenwriters should. The Guild has guidelines on how much can be used. Cameron used so much, Harlan should have gotten story credit, which again is another animal in Hollywood.

      On top of that, Cameron actually admitted in an interview he stole Harlan’s work for Terminator. If he had just given a nod to Harlan and paid him the fee and acknowledged him on the credits as per Guide rules, it would have gone nowhere. There were other factors as well that made them settle with Harlan. All Hollywood stuff.

    • dwsmith

      Philip, you said “you put the world on notice that your idea was yours” and that means nothing in copyright.

      Sorry, just trying to squash the myth, at least here, that copyright protects ideas. It does not, thus your statement pushed a bad myth. Sorry I got snippy but that one really gets me shaking my head because writers think their ideas are so valuable. Nope. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen. It is how you write the story, the form, that is yours and protected.

      • Philip

        No worries about getting snippy. You’ve been more than generous in your many helpful replies to my emails to you (pleas for advice, really) and in the workshops and lectures I’ve attended/viewed, so I respect your views.

  • Chong Go

    That’s kind of the perfect scam. They provide a legit service for a fee. Never mind that authors could do it themselves, or that it may not be necessary in most cases. As long as they follow through, they haven’t actually committed a crime. Sort of the perfect crime. (Unless, of course, they just take your money, or list themselves as the copyright owner!)

    As I understand it, registering copyright with the library of congress only provides two real benefits. One is that, in a lawsuit, having a previously registered copyright changes the class of damages you can get, increasing your award. (Although I suspect lawsuits in this area are akin to pig-wrestling – even if you win, it still feels like losing.) The second is that it protects you from Hollywood/others trying to muddy your claim to the work. Someone (Kris?) wrote about this, where agents/studios would try to register a copyright claim for works they were *considering* licensing. Just straight up theft, without any real penalties if they get caught at it.

    That’s a great point about victims getting put on a “sucker list”.

    • dwsmith

      In the States, if you have the work registered “in a timely manner” before an infraction, you get statutory damages, meaning you don’t have to prove damages or that you were even hurt. Massive advantage.

      And even if you have it registered, if they want to try to muddy the claim, they can and some do. Nature of the ugliness in Hollywood. How they manage this is that they ask the stupid writer for the registration number of the copyright. (Can’t get it any other way) Then go in with that number and make changes and such. So if you do register a copyright, NEVER give that number to anyone. Protect it.

      • George K

        Dean can’t they get the registration number by looking up the title of your work or failing that by your name on the library of Congress copyright search?

        Also if they have the number woukd you please tell us how they can muddy it?

        And Doesn’t the registry office verify the identity person trying to make changes?

        This is highly disturning!

        • George K

          PS oh wait — if the registration number does NOT appear on the copyright search but is undisclosed publically by the LOC but is itself the verification key then I see what you are saying. It’s private key the writer got by registering it and then he stupidly just tells them the number and they use it to charge the claim/details etc. If I’ve understood correctly the registertuon number does not appear in searches—-correct?

      • George K

        PPS oops sorry did not see the phrase “(Can’t get it any other way) ”

        So when I search for a copyright registered work through the copyright office online or in person it will not provide the private copyright registration number.

        So it’s a bit like a Swiss numbered bank account?

        • George K

          Sorry for this forth note Dean (erase what you have to of course). I just went to the copyright search and see that someth8ng called the “registration number “ appears with the title of a book and author . I looked up ‘the Christmas escape ‘ by Dean Wesley Smith and if you look at the record it lady’s “ registration number” . I’m asssuming this is not the registration number you are referring to? Otherwise I’m confused!


          • dwsmith


            What you found is a catalog number, which can be found by anyone. The registration number is sent to you in a form, at least here in the states. That is what the lowlifes ask for which opens up that story’s registration to them. They ask for it in contracts and such.

            Even without it, someone can register a copyright for a work, even one already registered, if they feel they need to do so to muddy the water in one way or another. Rare and only larger cases. But flat taking copyright through getting the registration number is another matter and causes the real author all sorts of issues.

          • dwsmith

            George, the number is called a “Registration number” that is their catalog number. Maybe a better way of putting it is you get a receipt number that is the key in. (grin)

      • Anon

        This Hollywood copyright theft thing is so disturbing to me. An in-depth post on how to protect yourself from scams like that (other than the obvious things of not giving people that info directly) would be welcome. If people can muddy the waters with copyright even without you making an obvious mistake/dumb move, what can you do? How do you vet Hollywood people if they start showing interest in your work? If someone contacts you and you simply refuse any offer, could they still muddy the water just because they’re still interested? Are you screwed as soon as your book attracts the interest of such a dishonest person?

        • dwsmith

          You just do the best you can, have your work registered and get everything in writing and make paper copies. Past that, you have to live in the world and things happen.

          And no, you are never screwed. The law protects you. Just annoyed is all.

          And trust me, I’ve been around for 40 years now and the only thing I have had stolen was by The Science Fiction Writers Association. SFWA. That’s right, a writer’s organization stole my work against my expressed permission. They paid. So there are bigger things to worry about if you know copyright and protect yourself with reasonable actions.

          • Danielle Williams

            Hi, Dean,

            What’s the best practice for a new writer (10 points in the “publishing points race”) when it comes to registering copyright in the US? I like the idea of having extra legal protection (seems like a good business move), but given the cost (as Kate Pavelle mentioned), and the fact that I write a lot of shorts, is it something I should be worrying about this early in the game? Or should I simply register any first-in-series I make?

            Thank you for your time!

          • dwsmith

            My official opinion is to register everything you can. The reality opinion is first in series is more than enough. And anything that sniffs at Hollywood or Gaming, register it instantly. Meaning you get a call from someone, you get them to use email and before you respond to anything you send off the registrations. A number of definitions and levels of “timely registration” under copyright. One is ahead of the infraction, the most common is within a certain amount of time of creation or publication.

  • Kate Pavelle

    This discussion has been useful to me. Thank you Dean for hashing out the details. Thank you, everyone else, for asking the questions which I had as I had been reading this.
    BTW registering just the first of the series is a brilliant compromise. There comes a point when registering all of one’s works gets into a sizeable time and money investment.
    As an aside, KDP started asking for proof of IP ownership when people change covers, titles, or heaven forbid even pen names. I had switched a number of my books to a different pen name, and had to instruct them to follow the money (which they did,) to find that I am the one and the same person. It was an inconvenient delay, but not a deal breaker.

  • Harvey

    I don’t remember seeing this in The Copyright Handbook but another possible solution to the copyright registration fees building up (especially if you have a lot of previously unregistered work out there) is to register several works under one title, for example, The Fictional Works of Author Name, 2005.

    You would ostensibly then put all the works in one large manuscript under that title and send it, and one fee, to the Copyright Registration Office.

  • CEC

    Dean, just curious if you had seen the draft copyright regulations for the EU is working on. The Mercatus center at GMU did an article on it and it seems like the tech checks this would require could be more than a little cumbersome, and might mess with timely reference to materials even for which the site owner holds copyright. I’ve included the URL to the Mercatus article below, and am interested in any thoughts you might have on the matter.

    • dwsmith

      CEC, yup, something we need to watch. For copyright of artists of all types, it is more protection. For free internet use, it has it’s problems, zero doubt about that. But a ways yet to go before that gets close to any kind of law.

      The biggest problem right now writers face (and all publishers) is the recent North Dakota case on sales tax that the Supreme Court just upheld. It’s like the rules on the vat tax in Europe only about a thousand times worse. That case, if applied wrong, could shut down most of the internet as we know it for business.