When you start looking into how to copyright a book, you may feel overwhelmed by all of the terminology. From intellectual property law to infringement and copyright protection, it can all seem a bit confusing.
The Copyright Act defines itself as covering all sorts of works, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out whether or not you actually need one.
This article will break it all down for you so that you can complete copyright registration with ease. Remember, however, that if at any point you have serious questions about copyright law, always seek legal advice from an attorney. If you need to know how to copyright a book, this article is for you.
Intellectual property, also known as or referred to as “IP,” is property that includes intangible creations. This consists of any product of human intellect. Specifically, its primary purpose is to protect things like patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
Copyright protection applies as soon as you start to create something. It also includes things like art, music, literary works, and trade secrets. Essentially, if you thought it up and created it, it’s got copyright protection because it belongs to you.
Why Get A Copyright Registration?
Do you really need to bother with copyright registration if you have copyright protection for your books, stories, novels, or other creations due to intellectual property laws? The short answer here is: yes.
If you don’t obtain actual copyright and go through the registration process, then you will have the burden of having to prove that someone else stole your ideas, work, writing, art, or music.
Register Your Copyright
Getting an actual copyright page right thereafter, the title page of your book saves you a lot of hassle. And it’s just one extra page in the publishing process.
Copyright law can better protect your work in tangible form when you have that copyright notice in your work.
The Berne Convention
In 1886, 164 countries got together and decided, as an international agreement, that there was not a need for domestic registration of copyrights. However, the United States didn’t sign that agreement.
Due to this, there are more steps to take when trying to get copyrighted internationally. And, you can still be sued by someone from other countries for infringement.
How to Copyright a Book: Step by Step
There are two ways to go about obtaining copyright. You can either apply for one and get it by mail or online. We will discuss both options.
How to Start Registration Online
- Go to the copyright office website via this link.
- Click the “Literary Work” option. Then the “Register a Literary Work.”
- Log in to your online account, or create one if you have not yet registered.
- Click on “Copyright Registration” and then “Register a New Claim.”
- Click “Start Registration.”
- Fill out the online form in its entirety. Be sure to spell everything and word everything exactly as it appears on your book cover.
- Pay for the registration. The copyright office charges $45 for online registration.
- Send in a copy of your manuscript to the Copyright Office.
How to Submit a Copyright Registration by Mail
If you feel better about sending in a physical copy of your manuscript or don’t trust that the internet will keep your work safe, you do have the option to complete registration by mail and still get your copyright notice.
To do this, simply print the registration application, fill it out, and mail that, your book, and the copyright office filing fee of $125 to the Copyright Office.
It is important to note that this is a longer process. It takes about a year before your application is processed most of the time.
New Group Option for Short Online Literary Works
If you are a blogger, write articles, or work for a newspaper, there is a new feature on the copyright office website to register such pieces of work. This lessens the chances that your work will be stolen, reproduced, or accused of infringement.
The Poor Man’s Copyright: What Not to Do
Sometimes, people attempt to cut corners. That’s fine for some things, but when it comes to protecting your own book, never cut corners. A poor man’s copyright is the term given to the practice of avoiding the electronic registration to copyright a book. Instead of mailing yourself a first publication or manuscript of your book through registered mail, and simply never opening the package.
The thought process is that copyright laws will protect you because you can prove that your work was created by the date marked on the certified mail that you sent yourself. However, this is shoddy at best.
While the Copyright Act statutory definition states that protected work is anything you’ve created, especially material objects, it primarily encompasses copyrights that have been obtained legitimately. Not completing the electronic form or electronic filings for your artistic works puts you at serious risk.
It’s best to maintain control of your work the official way. Register your copyright even if you self-publish. Register your copyright no matter what. Not doing so means that you will have to defend yourself, as most legal counsel cannot help you if you don’t have actual copyright.
How Much Does It Cost to Copyright a Book?
If you are the only author of the book and use an electronic registration to copyright it, you need to pay $45. If you are applying for a standard application using electronic registration, you must pay $65.
In contrast, if you prefer a paper application, the cost for your registration will be $125.
How Does Copyright Law Protect the Copyright Owner?
Whether you’re self-publishing or going with a traditional publishing house to publish your book, having a copyright page in your book by the time of publication ensures that your work is safe. From what, though? Well, from copying it. Among other things. Let’s break it down.
Copies and Reproductions
That copyright page that you put in your book, obtained by registering with the US Copyright Office, puts it on public record that you are the sole owner and therefore have rights, as the copyright holder, to copy or reproduce your work.
No one else gets that privilege unless and until you sell the book to a publisher. If you are self-publishing, you retain rights.
This means that no one can take your book, change the protagonist’s name, and then pass the book off as their own. No one can take their copy of your book, spend some time with a copy machine, and start making books of their own from the one book they purchased.
This means that no one else can obtain copies of your book and then resell them. Until and unless you sell your book to a publisher, you have complete control of how many books are printed, as well as where and how they are distributed.
Suppose that you had a really great idea. Let’s say that you really liked the Neville Longbottom character in the Harry Potter series, but you thought his backstory and his character arc just weren’t deep enough.
So you decide that you’d like to write a spin-off series that features Longbottom as the protagonist and Harry as just a side character. That would be cool, right? No, that wouldn’t be cool.
In fact, that will most likely result in J.K. Rowling taking legal and technological measures with the help of an intellectual property attorney to keep you from publishing this book or profiting off of it in any way.
An IP lawyer getting involved is never good, but when you end up owing more money than you can imagine to Rowling, well, you can probably also say goodbye to your future as a writer.
Derivative works refer to taking a work that has already been created and has registered copyright and creating your own story with the premise or some part of the creation that doesn’t belong to you.
Copyright holders are guaranteed the right not to share profits with someone who took half of their idea and expanded upon it. This is copyright infringement, and lawyers are all too willing and eager to penalize copyright infringement the moment it is noticed.
Displaying and Performing
The US Copyright Office guarantees that copyrighted material, whether you obtain the copyright online or through the mail, also safeguards you from anyone displaying or performing your work.
This means that a play of your novel cannot be written and performed. This means that displaying your book to get guests to come to an event that you haven’t agreed to is a no-go as well.
How a Copyright Page Protects You From Statutory Damages
Having copyright registrations for your work really helps to keep your work safe. Electronic registration through the electronic copyright office means that exclusive rights are granted to keep you from having your work stolen. But they also protect you from getting in trouble, as well.
How to Avoid an Embarrassing or Costly Situation
When you copyright a book, that little copyright symbol does more for you than making you the legal owner of your work. It also helps to protect you if someone else comes along and accuses you of having stolen their work.
The registration can simply be looked up online, and you can obtain the help of an attorney to represent you and keep your good name clear.
What is a Disclaimer and an Extended Disclaimer?
These are terms that you have most likely heard of and have more than likely seen in books you have read. They provide the writer with additional protection.
When you start investigating how to copyright a book, you might begin with opening up a book you own and looking at the page that shows the actual copyright. More than likely, there’s a disclaimer.
This statement reads along the lines of: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This prevents you from someone coming out of the woodworks and claiming that the story is about them or that you wrote about something that happened to them, and you did not seek permission before writing said novel.
This is something that all writers should consider doing, but especially a self-published author, who may not have the backing that a traditional publisher can provide.
If you write a memoir, it’s best to include a statement or clause that states that you have written about events of your life as you remember them and as they affected you—this way, you aren’t sued for libel or defamation.
Extending the Disclaimer
If you write any sort of book that gives help or advice, and extended disclaimer is a good idea. It will help to protect you if someone ends up at a disadvantage due to the advice given by your work.
For example: If you write a book about exercise, and your state in your book that with this workout routine, you were able to lose ten pounds in three months, a disclaimer on your book can keep you from getting in trouble when someone buys that book, doesn’t lose that much weight, and is upset that your routine didn’t work for them.
This is basically a statement on your copyright page that informs people that if they apply the suggestions or advice given in your book, they do so at their own risk. Neither the author nor the publisher assumes responsibility for any results.
What is Public Domain?
Public domain content is the things that are created that are not protected by copyright. This can happen for several different reasons:
- Copyright expired
- Copyright wasn’t applied for
- Copyright was intentionally put in the public domain
- It isn’t protected by IP law
- The US government made it
If you are unsure whether or not you can use a piece of information in your own work, check to see if it is part of the public domain.
Fair Use and Other Terms
Fair use is a defense against infringement. Basically, it means that someone used quotes or portions of your work to create a parody or review of your work.
Unfair competition is when someone uses unethical business practices to take over the market and push out the competition.
This doesn’t just mean that you can sue John Grisham or another famous person because they dominate the market. This means someone is violating standard business practices to get ahead.
The Copyright Page
The copyright page goes directly after the title page in your book. While you may feel a bit insecure about sending your work to a publisher before obtaining copyright, keep in mind that getting copyright means that your work must stay the way it was presented at the time of registration.
If a publisher picks up your book, it will most likely have to go through edits and rewrites. It is often unnecessary to copyright ahead of getting a publisher unless you are self-publishing and have already completed your editing and revision.