What Copyright Means to Me with Peter Parnell
Shadowbox with plywood background featuring scraps of rusted metal tools
Heavy Harvester by Cheryl Jacobson

When I was very little, even before I learned how to read and write, I would dictate stories to my mother, who would write them down on large pads of tracing paper, leaving spaces for where I could do the illustrations. (I wish I could remember all these stories, but the only one I do remember was a Bemelmans-inspired tale about a Central Park pigeon named Cadmus who apprehended a band of thieves by dropping bread crumbs for the police to follow.) One day, after finishing a story, I went outside to play and ran into our next door neighbor Gloria Cohen. When I told her I’d just written a story, Gloria asked me if I was going to get it published. What’s that? I asked. Gloria explained to me how all the books I read were printed by publishers, and I should send my story to a few of my favorites. I ran back home and told my mom that I wanted to get my story published. I can’t remember if my mom laughed a little or not (I assume she did), but she didn’t discourage me. So I began to go through my favorite picture books — Madeleine (Viking), Petunia (Random House), Make Way for Ducklings (Viking again!) — to find out who published them. I also glanced at the inside page across from the title page. What struck me was the little “© by [author’s name]” beside it. My mom explained to me that this showed it was “copyrighted” by the author, which meant it was his or her property, he or she owned it, and nobody could steal it, even though it was published and thousands of people read it. NOBODY COULD STEAL IT! Somehow, this was a great comfort to me. And also an incentive to actually officially own something I had created… In fact, it wasn’t until many years later, when my first play was being done in New York, that I finally got something copyrighted. I remember excitedly dropping my script in the mail, addressed to the Library of Congress Copyright Office in Washington, DC, thinking about how both Gloria Cohen and my mom had helped make this happen. I still think of them every time I get something copyrighted. Now, if I could only find that Cadmus the pigeon story…

Peter Parnell

’s plays include Dada Woof Papa Hot (© 2016), Trumpery (© 2009), and QED (© 2002), among others. He is the co-author of the children’s picture book And Tango Makes Three (© 2005). He is a former Vice President of the Dramatists Guild.