I want to share some useful information with everyone that I’ve learned about copyright law over the past couple of years. Before I get into the meat of the matter, I have a few things to note. First item, I’m not a lawyer. This information I’m going to share with you is from my own personal research into the matter. While I’m reasonably sure of its accuracy, please consult a professional if you have an important legal issue, especially one where money is involved. Second thing to note, this information applies to copyright law in the United States. Most other industrialized countries have similar laws, but it’s on you to check the laws of your own country. Keep in mind that even if you’re based in another county, U.S. laws will often be a factor, because many of the sites that host stories and other artistic works are located in the U.S., and that includes our dear Wikia/Fandom. Third thing to note, the wiki is a bit of a special case when it comes to copyright licensing, and you may be giving up specific rights by posting here without even knowing it, but I’ll get into that further down. Fourth thing to note, what I’m going to talk about applies not only to written works such as stories and screenplays, but also to photos, drawings, songs, and most artistic creations.
A copyright allows the creator of an artistic work (or their designee) the right to allow (or not allow) someone to publish, perform, print, record, etc, their work. A copyright is instantaneous, and it begins the moment you create an artistic work. You don’t have to register with any government agency in order to hold the copyright for something you’ve created. If you’re in a bar, and you write a poem, in crayon, on a napkin, you automatically own the copyright to that work. It’s that simple. What’s not as simple is proving your ownership of the copyright, and enforcement is a different matter as well.
The issue that most of us here may run into is finding our stories posted on other websites without our permission and/or without proper attribution. Some of us have even found our stories for sale on Amazon. Most websites that host or sell stories will have someplace where you can report copyright violations, but only the holder of the copyright can legally do so. Sites like Wattpad and Createspace are pretty good about quickly responding to takedown requests. Ninety-nine percent of the time this is going to take care of the issue. Still, it might not always go smoothly. One problem you may run into is that the site hosting your artistic work won’t have a dedicated way to report copyright infringements. There may be ways to contact the site administrators (email, etc.), so you should send your concerns to them using those means, if you can. You can also leave a comment asking the offender to stop what they’re doing. Sometimes they will ignore you. In cases like this, send a takedown request directly to the ISP that hosts the site. They are required to take action when they receive these requests. There are paid services that will help you with this process, but it’s also something you can do for yourself. Some instructions are here.
In the vast majority of cases, the steps above will usually be enough to get your content removed, but there’s also the chance that the offender will file a counter-notice. If this happens, you’ll be provided with the contact information of the party who filed the counter-notice, and the work will possibly be restored to the site while things play out. If you want to continue with the process, it will become a matter for the U.S. Federal Court system to decide. If you end up in court, and if you win your case, the defendant will be liable not only for damages, but also for the expenses you incurred (assuming they actually have the money). Keep in mind that going to court is very costly, and probably not worth it unless there’s a large sum of money at stake. Before going to the courts, one last thing you would want to try is a cease and desist letter. A well crafted letter can often do wonders for your cause, but it has no teeth of its own. Basically, you’re telling the person to stop what they’re doing or else you’ll sue them. You can send your own C&D letter without the help of a lawyer, but one that comes from a lawyer will intrinsically carry more weight.
If you find yourself in court as the plaintiff, the burden of proving that you own your copyright is on you. Hopefully, you’re prepared for this. In the past, writers would sometimes use what was known as “the poorman’s copyright registration.” They would mail a copy of their manuscript to themselves, and then keep the unopened envelope someplace safe. The postmark would be their proof that the story was created before that date. It could presumably be opened in court to help prove their case. The modern equivalent would be emailing your story to yourself before you post it anywhere. The electronic timestamp would be your proof of earliest creation. From my understanding these methods don’t hold up in court, though it doesn’t necessarily hurt to do this. Perhaps the easiest way of proving your copyright is to register it with the Electronic Copyright Office, which is a division of the U.S. Copyright Office. It costs thirty-five dollars per work to do this. Each short story is considered its own work, so you would be unable to register a collection of stories without paying separately for each one. You can also register songs, photos, drawings, screenplays, and other artistic endeavors. Keep in mind that it’s best to register your work BEFORE you have an issue with someone; otherwise it’s going to hold less weight in court. However, you can still register your story after you’ve put it online. The takedown requests that I discussed above do not require that you have any sort of registration. Registration will only help you if the person decides to fight you on the issue.
This brings us to the special case of Wikia/Fandom, which is governed by something known as Creative Commons Licensing. When you post a story here on creepypasta.wikia.com (or if you write an article for any of the fandom wikis), by default it automatically becomes available for certain uses by other people. There are various levels of licensing, and if you don’t bother to assign your preferred licensing to your story, it will automatically fall under the least restrictive CC-BY-SA category. Under CC-BY-SA, others may “remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.” This means that monetized youtube narrators may read your story without asking permission from you, because they already have it. It means that someone compiling a book of short stories for sale can use your work too. In every instance, they MUST credit you as the author. Thorough attribution might look something like this: “This story was written by [YOUR NAME HERE] and is available on creepypasta.wiki.com and is used under CC-BY-SA licensing.” The new work they created also must be available under the same CC-BY-SA rules.
The next level of Creative Commons licensing available here is CC-BY-NC, which is the category I most commonly use. This allows for others to “remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.” In short, people who aren’t making money on their projects can use your work, so long as they give you proper attribution.
The final category used here is CC BY-NC-ND, which is the most restrictive license. It allows “others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.” Basically, with this license you’re telling people, “Read it, enjoy it, share it even, but otherwise, keep your grubby hands off of it and tell people where you got it.”
Please understand that by posting here YOU ARE NOT GIVING UP YOUR COPYRIGHT, but giving permission beforehand for people to use your work in certain ways. If your story is removed entirely from wikia/fandom, it will no longer available under Creative Commons licensing, though projects based on your story that were created before the removal are still protected. Remember that you should only add your own stories this site, otherwise you’re granting rights that aren’t yours to grant.
Most other sites that host stories are NOT governed by CC licensing. This includes creepypasta.com, booksie, and wattpad among others. With those sites you’re giving others zero rights in advance, and people must contact you individually before doing anything with your work.