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On copyright, publishing and nom-de-plumes

What do Mary Ann Evans, Eric Blair and Ted Geisel have in common? They are all the real people behind famous pseudonyms (George Eliot, George Orwell and Dr. Seuss respectively.) The pen name is a classic strategy for writers who want to keep their public lives and personal lives separate. However, if you are using a nom-de-plume, what does that mean for copyright?

Although copyright law has grown and changed over the years, writers are always going to be judicious and protective of their privacy. With a pen name to hide behind, a writer can work in anonymity allowing them greater freedom from backlash. It’s a strategy that’s worked for years, and the internet makes anonymity even easier, but there is a huge caveat:

What if you want to make a living off your work?

Popular works are very lucrative, but if you publish under a pen name there will always be a question of who is behind it. As social media has gotten pervasive, a writer’s personal and public identities can merge. Using a pen name can enforce that separation, but if you file your work with the copyright office, your “secret identity” may not stay a secret for long.

When a writer produces a popular work, protecting their copyright is an economic imperative. If a writer values their privacy they can file their copyright under a pseudonym. When writer’s do that they have the option to identify the “real name” of the writer, but those records are public, Copyright claims can be filed using a pseudonym, as long as you check the correct boxes. Thus, the copyright and the writer’s privacy are then protected. However, proving who owns the copyright, in that case, can become difficult.

Protect your work or yourself

When it comes to copyright, the main truth that should never change is that artists have the right to benefit from their work. It’s just that making a living may take your personal life and make it public.

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