Why Should I Copyright My Book (And How Do I Do It)?

should I copyright my book?

What is copyright registration and why do authors need it?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

If you’re working on a manuscript, you may have heard that you automatically hold the copyright on any material you write, simply by having created it. While technically true, this statement is misleading and can cost you money should you ever have to fight for your rights in court.

Let’s look at what copyright registration is, and why you need it for your published book.

The term “copyright” refers to a set of rights that you, the author, retain over your creative work. Copyright gives you the power to reproduce your work, create derivative works (writing or other products based on your original work), distribute copies, and perform/display your work publicly. In essence, you control whether and how the public gains access to your written product. If anyone uses your work for these purposes without your permission — called copyright infringement — you can sue for damages.

You may grant written permission for others to share some, or all, of these rights. For instance, a writer might grant rights to a movie studio to adapt their book into a film or allow the editor of an anthology to reprint one of their short stories.

You automatically hold the copyright on any creative material you produce. However, legally protecting those rights is much easier if you register your copyright with the United States Copyright Office in the Library of Congress.

What types of work can be copyrighted?

You can secure a copyright for a broad range of creative endeavors, including writing, artwork and other visual creations, video, music, audio productions, dramatic performances, and even things like architecture and software. The work must be in a tangible medium and must be your own original creation.

Exactly what part of my work is covered by copyright?

Copyright protects a particular creation, but it doesn’t necessarily protect broad ideas.

For example, if you wrote a memoir about beekeeping, your copyright would not stop another author from writing their own memoir about beekeeping. “Memoirs about beekeeping” is a broad idea or genre, not a specific work. Copyright would, however, prevent another author from using your memoir’s plot and characters in their own novel. That plotline and your characters are particular to your work in a way that the subject of beekeeping is not.

Unfortunately, differentiation between specific and broad isn’t always clear-cut. The line can grow thin in copyright infringement lawsuits, which is why it’s important to register your copyright. Why? Registering your copyright with the Library of Congress makes it easier for you to legally protect your rights as creator. For instance:

  • If you need to sue for copyright infringement, you’ll have a stronger case in court. Registration makes it easy to prove your ownership — and the date it was created.
  • Registration with the Library of Congress allows you to sue for statutory damages in an infringement lawsuit, which will likely yield a much higher sum than suing for actual damages alone.
  • Copyright registration can act as a deterrent against infringement in the first place if your manuscript or other written work clearly states its copyright status.

How do I register a copyright?

You can gain a copyright for your manuscript in several ways.

    1. Register directly with the US Copyright Office. Their web portal allows you to create an account and file an electronic application to register your work. You can also apply on paper via mail to the office. You will pay a fee with your application.
    2. Register through your publisher. If your manuscript is accepted by a publisher, your publisher can file the registration for you in your name.

What documents will I need for registration?

The Library of Congress will ask for three things in order to process and grant your copyright:

      1. A completed application form, available on their website.
      2. A filing fee.
      3. A copy of the work you’re registering.

That’s it! You can carry out the copyright process via mail or electronically.

When in doubt, register!

Copyright registration is far more than a formality. It can save you from losing out on money and from losing control of your work. The Book Professor® advises writers to claim the copyright on their work by displaying the © symbol (example: © 2022, The Book Professor) on their manuscript before they show it to others or post it anywhere online (and remember, online posting is itself considered “publication”). Then register the copyright with the Library of Congress upon publication.

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    • I’ll start with the caveat that I am not a lawyer, but the gist is copyright protects longer works (poems, stories, books, songs) and a trademark is for a word, phrase, symbol, or image unique enough to be considered “exclusive.” Like, the recent attempt by Mariah Carey to trademark “Queen of Christmas” would have given her exclusive rights to promote herself as the Queen of Christmas. And a logo is a trademark, not a copyright.

  1. A customer service person at Scrivener expressed interest in my stories and in vanity I sent her the main idea, audience, etc., and some stories. She emailed that she was busy and I never heard anything else. I repeatedly asked her to respond and attach my document – thinking that would at least be proof I’d given it to her. Am I worrying needlessly?

    • I’d say you’re probably worrying needlessly, though I expect you’ve also learned the lesson that you should be cautious when sending your unpublished works to anyone you don’t know. Do you have a record of the email exchange when you sent the documents? Do you have files on your computer that show the date when you first created a given piece? At the end of the day, if there’s a situation where you are trying to prove that someone stole your material, you’ll want to provide any and all evidence that you created the work long before the person who is purporting to have created it did. That’s precisely where copyrighting your content comes into play. It’s a means of verifying your ownership as of a specific date. Did I mention I am NOT a lawyer?


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