Anonymity and Copyright

by F.

Here’s a nice surprise from the US government: an author can remain anonymous yet still get copyright in his or her work.

A pseudonym or pen name may be used by an author of a copyrighted work. A work is pseudonymous if the author is identified on copies or phonorecords of that work by a fictitious name (nicknames or other diminutive forms of one’s legal name are not considered “fictitious”). As is the case with other names, the pseudonym itself is not protected by copyright.

If you are writing under a pseudonym but wish to be identified by your legal name in the records of the Copyright Office, you should give your legal name followed by your pseudonym at the “name of author” line at space 2 of the application (example: “Judith Barton whose pseudonym is Madeline Elster”). You should also check “yes” in the box at space 2 which asks “Was this author’s contribution to the work pseudonymous?” If the author is identified in the records of the Copyright Office, the term of the copyright is the author’s life plus 70 years.

If you are writing under a pseudonym but do not wish to have your identity revealed in the records of the Copyright Office, you should give your pseudonym and identify it as such (example: “Huntley Haverstock, pseudonym”) or you may leave the “name of author” space blank. You must, however, identify the citizenship or domicile of the author.

In no case should space 4 (name of copyright claimant) be left blank. You may use a pseudonym in completing the claimant space, but you should also be aware that if a copyright is held under a fictitious name, business dealings involving that property may raise questions of ownership of the copyright property. You should consult an attorney for legal advice on these matters.

If the author is not identified in the records of the Copyright Office, the term of copyright is 95 years from publication of the work, or 120 years from its creation, whichever term expires first. If the author’s identity is later revealed in the records of the Copyright Office, the copyright term then becomes the author’s life plus 70 years.

FL-101, Revised July 2006

There’s a small penalty for anonymity, though not one most of use will worry too much about. Ninety-five years seems plenty.

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