Nnorom Azuonye

One issue that always bugs the minds of poets, like all writers, artists or anybody at all in the creative world is this thing called copyright. When you have worked very hard to create a piece of literature, it can be extremely heartbreaking to find that somebody has stolen it.

Unfortunately, there is a very thin line to walk on copyright. The item in question has to appear in some permanent form or the other, with provability of the date in which it first appeared. This means that, in the case of a poem, it should have appeared in a magazine page, a newspaper, an anthology, or broadcast on radio or television with a recording of the broadcast existent, or other media including Greeting Cards, Mugs and Plaques. There is also the question of what can and cannot be copywritten.  Generally, you cannot copyright an idea, but you can copyright the FORMAT in which that idea appears. This is based on the notion that the same idea could occur to more that one person at the same time, or that the same event could inspire several poets at the same time. Example the World Trade Centre bombing has resulted in hundreds of thousands of poems. has a library of these poems, but when you read them, you will see differences in thematic and structural handling,

The question is always what happens to the poem between your finishing it and its appearance in any of the forms above. The answer is that the only thing you really can do is to have some form of evidence that you were in possession of that piece of work on a particular date. The only way you can be disproved is if somebody should present a water-tight evidence that they indeed had that same work before the date you claim to have had it. So then, what you can do?


When you finish your poem, hopefully with the date and place you wrote it, example, New York, 21 November 2001. Stick a 1 penny or 1 cent stamp on the page, ask the postal worker at your post office to initial the stamp, get his name if you can. Seal the poem in an envelope, sign your name across the seal so that if it is tampered with, it will be evident, and mail it to yourself or to somebody you trust BY RECORDED POST, preferably somebody else, so that it will be signed for, but remember to tell them not to open the envelope.  Then leave the envelope unopened until such a time, if ever, hopefully not, there is a question of who owns the poem. With this package, you can at least prove that it belonged to you on a given day. You may ask the challenger to state when he or she wrote the piece, before disclosing that you have this package. It may be your only ace.


Set up a second e-mail address. Most people have more than one anyway. Send your poem to yourself by e-mail.  In the 'Copy To' field, enter the e-mail address of somebody you trust, example, your mother's or a close friend's. As soon as you receive the e-mail, print it out. It will have all sorts of information on it that can be verified, such as your IP address, the travel path of the mail and details of the ISP handling the post. File this e-mail, and pray that you never have to use it.


Just like e-mail, send the e-mail to yourself by fax. It will have the date and originating as well as destination phone numbers. If you don't have a fax machine, and you don't even need to these days, you can always get one of those fax to e-mail numbers so that you can receive you fax by E-mail. You can get one for free at File it. Avoid receiving thermal paper faxes. The images will vanish after a while, and so will your proof of ownership of your poem.


Forget the negative portrayal that some poetry defence purists give poetry forums. They can actually help you develop your work. For one thing, they force you to read poems by other people, as they encourage you to review what others have written, just as people will review your own work. This could be all the inspiration you need to feed your creative appetite. The advantage of Internet forums is that your post goes live instantly, with the date and time of posting, date of editing and all that. As soon as you put your poem out there, not only have you published it, but you have the date of publication.  As with the e-mail and fax, always print out your Internet Forum posts, each page printed out will have verifiable domain address, the thread ID of your post, and details of the forum hosts. You can use our own Poetry Bar here, or any of these good ones Mr Africa Poetry Board,  check out also and

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FAO: Nnorom Azuonye
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