This is post #2 in my blog series looking at self-publishing from a South African perspective. Check out the full list of posts on the Self-Publishing in South Africa page 🙂
I’d like to point out first that I am not a copyright lawyer! If you’d like more detailed information on copyright and how it works, you should probably contact someone who is a lawyer (or the ISN Agency). As an overview, though, here’s what I’ve gathered about copyright in South Africa from my searching of the Internet …
In some countries, authors have to register the copyright of their work. South Africa, however, is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The copyright of your story is automatic as soon as you write down that story, and it does not require registration. So, technically, you don’t have to actually do anything in order to protect your work. Fantastic. Easy peasy.
How does this help, though, if someone has copied your work and you need to prove that you were the original author? If the work has already been published, this should be fairly easy (I hope. God willing, I will never have to face this situation myself). You will have sent at least one hard copy of your book to the National Library of South Africa (see the ISBN requirements below), so that could serve as proof. If you’ve published your work in ebook form only, and only on Amazon (meaning you possibly have no ISBN), Amazon will display the date you originally published the work. If the work has not yet been published, it could be more difficult proving your authorship. Some have suggested you post your manuscript to yourself in a sealed envelope via registered post. This envelope will have the date on it. Keep it aside (unopened) in case you ever need it.
[Remember that you cannot copyright ideas. If you tell someone about a great idea you’ve had for a story, and that person subsequently writes and publishes that story, well … it sucks, but they’re allowed to do that.]
An ISBN is an identification number for your book. Grab any book off your shelf, look at the back cover, and it’s the number above the barcode. You don’t HAVE to have one, but you won’t be able to sell your (physical hard copy) book through any professional channel, online or in bookstores, without one. When it comes to ebooks, an ISBN isn’t necessary for all channels (on Amazon you can choose to simply go with the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) their system provides for each ebook published), but it is required on other platforms like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
In South Africa, ISBNs are free. Yay! One of the small benefits of self-publishing in South Africa 😉 You can request ISBNs from the ISN Agency. You will be sent the numbers along with a form to fill in for each number you use, as well as instructions telling you how many copies of each book you need to supply to the National Library of South Africa, and where to send them. For small print runs of under 100, you’re only required to send 1 copy of your book. Larger print runs require you to send 5 copies to various NLSA places of deposit around the country. (So, factoring in postage costs, I guess you could say ISBNs technically aren’t “free” after all.)
You need a different ISBN for each FORMAT of your book. A paperback is one format, a hardback is another format, an audiobook is another, etc. When it comes to ebooks, there is still some debate as to whether this is one format or several. I’ve seen many articles that say a MOBI file (the Amazon Kindle specific file format) is one type of format, and an EPUB file (which works on most other platforms) is a different format. Which is true. They are different formats. (Bowker, the US ISBN Agency, takes this even further by saying that if a single format has different types of DRM on different platforms, then each should have its own ISBN.) But I also know that many, many authors (and large publishing houses) go with a single ISBN for an ebook, not matter what format of ebook it is. Since ISBNs are free in South Africa, here’s what I do: 1 ISBN for paperback, 1 ISBN for MOBI, and 1 ISBN for EPUB. (I have a publisher who produces my audiobooks, so they take care of ISBNS for that format, and so far I haven’t produced hardback editions.)
There are services online that will charge you for a barcode, but this is unnecessary given the free tools available online for you to easily generate a barcode from the ISBN you’ve been given. The one I’ve used is the Tec-It barcode generator, but I’m sure there are others.