Do I Own Copyright or Does My Mom?

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Question:  After the death of my father seven years ago, I wrote a short book of poems about my dad and gave it to my mother.  Mom died last year.  My sister somehow ended up with the book.  I just found out that she sent it to a publisher who has agreed to publish and market the book and give her the money.  My sister says that since I never published the poems, I don’t have a copyright and she can do this.  Is she right? 

Answer:  No, your sister is not right.  She – and her publisher– will be liable to you for copyright infringement if your poetry is published without your permission. When you wrote your poetry on paper you automatically obtained and -- unless you transferred it in writing to someone else -- you still own the copyright in that work. Giving a copy of the book of poems to your mother did not transfer the copyright to her. It also doesn't matter if you failed to include copyright notice as that doesn't change your claim to ownership. You should register the work with the Copyright Office to assure your claim to ownership (and you'll need the Certificate of Registration if you plan on suing your family.

Copyright law is complex and copyright infringement can be a serious legal matter. Consequences of infringement can include payment of damages and attorney fees.  You should immediately contact an attorney specializing in intellectual property law to properly represent you in enforcing your copyright, which may include a lawsuit against your sister and the publisher.

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