Have you ever gone to the trouble to copyright your work? Until a few days ago, I hadn’t—despite the fact that I’m pretty sure one of my early plays was at least partially ripped off by a very well-known playwright. (Don’t ask. Not gonna tell. Not even a word. No, not even to you.) Frankly, even though I had reason to believe in the power of copyright, I just couldn’t be bothered. I assumed it was an intimidating mountain to climb, and I just figured I was covered by the simple fact of my work having been out there in production. I was wrong on both counts.
After some prodding by a few of my playwright friends, I finally used the U.S. government’s handy online copyright registration system. Boy, howdy, was that a horrible experience. It was as if the entire system was designed by the fellows who make lab rat mazes. I could do better with a blunt crayon and a few napkins.
What’s worse, though, is the rather soul-empty feeling I had each time I clicked the submit button. $35 drained out of my bank account, my delicate and beautiful story uploaded into the ether, only to arrive in some government functionary’s inbox. This is not why I set out to write.
My only consolation was a brief moment in which I imagined some person whose job it is to read plays and make sure the authors’ copyright claims are on the up-and-up: a drab bureaucrat on the outside, but a passionate lover of all things literary on the inside, sitting in a cubicle day after day reading and plotting the overthrow of his or her own life.
And then that image disappeared in a sea of no-way-never-couldn’t-be-like-that, and I was empty again.