If you read poetry or write poetry, you need to understand the basics of how copyrights work. A copyright protects the rights of the poet who put his or her labor into creating this work of art.

First off, a copyright exists AS SOON AS YOU CREATE YOUR WORK. There is no need to register a copyright with any office, or to label your work in any special way. You don't have to put a copyright symbol on it. Once you have finished typing your work, or putting it on your website, or however you choose to use it, it is yours and it belongs to you. You hold the copyright.

The only reason a poet would need to REGISTER the copyright is if the owner wished to file a lawsuit against someone else regarding the work. That way the rightful owner now has it on record that he or she went through the steps to prove the work belongs to him or her.

Some people believe a "poor man's coypright" exists where you mail yourself your work. This is an urban legend. You always own your own copyright. If you wish to take legal action against someone else, you have to legally file your copyright papers first. Those are really the only two situations that exist.

Works created after 1987 are owned by the author and his/her estate for a full 70 years after the author's death. Works before then started with a copyright length of 28 years from publication, and then could be renewed from anywhere from another 28 years to another 67 years, depending what year the item was published in.

A general rule of thumb is that works before 1987 were protected for around 100 years from publication date. Any old poetry published more than 100 years ago can be put onto websites and used. Since the minimum before 1987 was 28 years from publication date, any poetry written after 1975 is definitely under copyright! And pretty much anything written since 1903 is most likely still under copyright. This includes song lyrics.

So enjoy poetry in all of its forms! But if you run a website, be sure you check before you use material illegally! Otherwise you could open yourself up to being sued by either the author of the poetry or his/her estate.

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