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Rhyme and Misdemeanors

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Dec. 7th, 2015 | 12:55 pm

As a freelance editor, I frequently hear from authors who are worried that if they join a writing group, show their manuscript to an editor, or submit it to an agent, their words will be stolen.

American authors often put a copyright notice on their work, which is usually unnecessary before publication—a written work is under copyright from the moment it’s created in a ‘fixed form,’ with or without the circled C, and with or without registration of the copyright.

While after-publication theft is a growing problem in self-published romance novels (thieves download a PDF, retitle, and re-list it as their own work), it’s unheard-of for a legit industry professional to plagiarize an author’s work. Generally, if someone likes a book enough to want to sell it, they’ll go ahead and work with the author—it’s a lot less hassle. If they're in business to rip you off, they want your money, not your book.

Still, sharing your work with a stranger requires a measure of trust, and some authors are wary.

To those authors, I dedicate this poem.

I steal every poem I see with no copyright note.
I print them on bathroom walls with black markers.
I recite them aloud at weddings when the priest asks if anyone here objects.
I inscribe them on prayer bells and ring them to Heaven for the Buddha.
And I never, ever credit the author.

I steal every poem I see by an unknown author,
smothering their feeble protests with my literary might.
I sell them on corners in inner cities. If a slumming suburbanite in a white SUV pulls up and gives me a twenty, a little kid on the next corner will run out and recite a sestina or haiku.
I mutter them sullenly to cops who ask if I know why they're talking to me today.
Authors who fail to circle-c turn corners to find their work staring down from forty-foot vodka advertisements,
while I get rich on the proceeds and never feel guilt.

When the cab driver asks, where to? I tell him in your trochees
I cram couplets into hopscotch rhymes.
At parties I whisper assonance into the ears of strangers,
Use your words to hook up in the guest bathroom.
Before Mass, I confess your poem.

I used your poem on Craigslist to freecycle my old loveseat,
Covering the stains with metaphors.
The slant rhyme did justice to the blue velour cover. Without your poem
I surely would not have been offered a crockpot in exchange,
I would not now be dining on the slow-cooked iambs of your sonnet
Sucking carefully considered anaphora from the bones.

Whipchick had a great time looking up poetic terms. Her favorite is zeugma.


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Comments {63}

Ray Raddatz


from: Ray Raddatz
date: Dec. 7th, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)

I work with authors publishing their thesis and dissertations and they're always concerned about registering for copyright.

It's really about the damages you can seek if you're infringed upon so, most of the time, it's simply not worth it.

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Re: Copyright

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 9th, 2015 10:30 am (UTC)

So true! I wish more people knew about that.

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