Table of contents
- What is a copyright?
- How does copyright protection work?
- Is there international copyright protection?
- Benefits to Copyrighting Your Book
- When to Register your Copyright
- Examples of Copyright for Books
- Copyright Terms You Need to Know
- Other FAQs for Book Copyright
- Do I have to register my copyright?
- Do I have to renew my copyright?
- How long does my copyright last?
- What if I revise my book and release a new edition?
- What if I use material from another source in my book?
- What if I hire a writer to write some or all of my books?
- What if I use a free stock photo or purchase a photo?
- What if I quote a famous person? Do I need to add that to my copyright?
- What if I quote a song or its lyrics?
You own your copyright as soon as you write down an original thought — from the moment of conception. When you write a book, it is already your copyrighted property.
To solidify your ownership as legally airtight and easily provable in a court of law, you should register your copyright.
No one wants someone to steal their book. Ebook piracy is a real problem. But many misconceptions swirl around what constitutes copyrighting a book.
Some authors just leave it to chance, while others go beyond what's necessary and incur extra fees and headaches.
Below, I will not only simplify the complex world of book copyrighting, but I'll also show you the most effective means of protecting your work and ensuring you’re covered.
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- What a book copyright is
- Benefits of registering your copyright
- How much it costs to register a copyright
- When you need to register the copyright
- 3 copyright notice examples
- How to copyright your book in 3 simple steps
- Important copyright terms to know
- Answers to frequently asked questions about book copyrights
This article was written by an intellectual property lawyer because a subject of this magnitude needs to be covered by a professional in the field. But don't worry, it was written for authors.
Quick disclaimer: Although this is written by an IP lawyer, the information presented here should not be considered formal legal advice. In case of an issue, it's recommended that you seek a lawyer for formal representation.
What is a copyright?
A copyright is the exclusive legal right to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material.
This also allows the copyright owner to authorize others to use the work. The author of a creative work automatically owns the copyright as soon as they create it.
Although a writer automatically owns the copyright to their book, there are benefits to officially registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office. By establishing a public record of your ownership with a registered copyright, you gain stronger legal protections and capabilities.
Different countries have different copyright laws, but the US tries to keep good copyright relations with most countries. This means many other major countries will respect much of the US copyright laws and policies for US-originated works. (But don’t count on this respect if you’re in a tough spot.)
Should you copyright your book? When you write a book, you automatically own the copyright. However, you should register your copyright to make it official. Registering with the US Copyright Office earns you legal protections, as well as the ability to claim extra damages in case of a lawsuit.
How much does it cost to copyright a book? Registering the copyright for a book costs $45 in most cases. Copyright.gov gives these costs for registering a copyright:
- Electronic filing, single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire: $45
- All other electronic filings: $65
- Paper Filing (Forms PA, SR, TX, VA, SE): $125
How can I copyright my book for free? You automatically own the copyright to your book for free the moment you write down the text. If you want the added legal benefits of registering your copyright, you must pay at least a $45 fee with the US Copyright Office to go through the process.
Ever heard of a “poor man’s copyright”? In the past, authors would mail their book to themselves through the US Postal Service and not open it to preserve the date. However, the poor man’s copyright is a myth and creates no extra legal protection for the author.
How does copyright protection work?
Copyright protection, a form of intellectual property law, covers original works, including books and other artistic works, from being plagiarized or used without permission, except in cases of fair use.
Fair use is the idea in US copyright law that excerpts from copyrighted material may be used verbatim without permission from the copyright holder, as long as the excerpts are used for:
- Reporting the news
An idea cannot be copyrighted. The expression of an idea is what is copyrighted. The idea must be fixed in some “tangible form of expression,” like a computer document or paper book, to be eligible for copyright protection.
Is there international copyright protection?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as international copyright protection that automatically protects an author's work worldwide. Protection against unauthorized use in a specific country depends on the particular laws of said country.
The Berne Convention is an international agreement effective since 1887 that eliminated the requirement for domestic copyright registration in many of its 164 signatory countries. A lot of foreign nations boast relatively simple copyright laws. The notable exception is the US.
This article is mainly focused on the United States. For information about copyrights in other countries, see the links below. These links are provided as further reading, not as legal advice. I am not an expert in international copyright law.
- Canada Intellectual Property Office
- United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office
- European Union
- South Africa
Here’s where you can get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) in different countries:
Check out my article on Self-Publishing Hardcover Books to learn more about ISBNs. (You probably don’t need an ISBN if you’re only publishing on Amazon Kindle.)
Benefits to Copyrighting Your Book
There are more benefits to copyrighting your book than you may think.
Of course, you already own the copyright as soon as you write the book. But I’m talking more about the benefits of registering your copyright and making it as official as possible.
Here are 5 benefits of registering a copyright for your book:
- Presume validity. Registration creates a legal presumption of validity that anyone challenging must prove isn't correct. Making this public legal declaration can offer you peace of mind, too.
- Add value to your publishing company. When you register your book’s copyright, you create an asset that can be sold or licensed. Suppose you set up a separate company for your publishing business. In that case, you can assign or transfer your copyright registrations to the company, and those copyright registrations become assets of your company. As you write new books, you can register your company as the copyright owner from the beginning. The copyright registration assets help add value to your publishing company.
- Obtain tax benefits. The choice of assigning or licensing rights to your own publishing company can have significant tax or legal implications. Seek legal advice regarding this process. That way, you can select the method that will be most advantageous for you from a financial perspective. Either way you go about it — assigning or licensing — you need a copyright registration.
- Prepare for a potential lawsuit. If you ever file a lawsuit about copyright infringement, the court will require copyright registration before filing the lawsuit.
- Earn statutory damages and attorney's fees. This is a biggie. Statutory damages and attorney's fees are often the most significant part of monetary awards asked for in copyright cases. You must register your copyright to be eligible for these.
When to Register your Copyright
When should you register your copyright? You should register your book’s copyright when your book’s final draft is finished and ready for publication, but before you start the publishing process.
Wait until the book is in final draft form because you need to send in copies of your work (physically or digitally) to register and send in the complete final draft.
Submitting the copyright application before you publish makes it less of a hassle to submit digitally, which is simpler and less expensive.
But don’t wait until you’ve completely registered your copyright to publish the book. The copyrighting process takes 6-13 months to completely register, and that means dollars lost if you don’t sell books in that time frame.
Of course, your book is copyrighted the moment you write it. However, you may want to register your copyright to establish a public record of your ownership.
To register a literary work, visit copyright.gov.
Examples of Copyright for Books
Let’s look at specific examples of copyright notices for fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs.
You have my full permission to copy and paste any of these templates into your book or eBook and change the details as needed.
Fiction Copyright Example
© 2021 Jane Doe. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, companies, organizations, places, events, locales, and incidents are either used in a fictitious manner or are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual companies or organizations, or actual events is purely coincidental.
For rights and permissions, please contact:
123 Main St.
Anywhere, State 12345
Non-Fiction Copyright Example
© 2021 Jane Doe. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law.
Every effort has been made by the author and publishing house to ensure that the information contained in this book was correct as of press time. The author and publishing house hereby disclaim and do not assume liability for any injury, loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, regardless of whether any errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. Readers are encouraged to verify any information contained in this book prior to taking any action on the information.
For rights and permissions, please contact:
123 Main St.
Anywhere, State 12345
Memoir Copyright Example
Copyright © 2021 by Jane Doe. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
For rights and permissions, please contact:
123 Main St.
Anywhere, State 12345
How to Copyright a Book in 3 Steps
You can register a copyright for your book in 3 easy-to-understand steps:
- Create copyright rights
- Register a claim
- Include a copyright notice
It’s worth noting that you own the copyright on anything you write, as long as it’s your original thought. Registering your copyright simply makes your ownership undeniable and legally airtight.
Step 1: Create Copyright Rights
The first step is simple: Create copyright rights. You’ll be glad to know that the copyright rights for your book are automatically created as you write it. That's right, automatically.
When your writing becomes “fixed in a tangible medium,” which is copyright legal jargon meaning written down — on paper, in a computer, on papyrus, or any other fixed form — you, as the author, have created the copyright rights to your work.
It's nice to have something in our legal system that functions automatically and without cost. Enjoy this before moving on to the next steps… which aren’t automatic and have a cost.
Step 2: Register a Claim
Next, you should register a copyright claim with the US Copyright Office. This is the most complicated part of the process, but I’ll simplify it as much as possible.
To register a claim for the copyright for your work:
- Go to the Electronic Copyright Office (or eCO) website.
- Login if you already have an account or register a new account.
- On the left side, under “Register a Work,” click “Standard Application.”
- Click “Start Registration” at the top.
- Follow the registration process for a new claim for a literary work.
- Pay the registration filing fee ($55 for an electronic Submission; $85 for paper filing).
- Submit deposit copies of your work either electronically or physically (by mail).
This is where the government returns to standard government ways with a process and a fee, but don't worry: The process is doable, and the price won't break the bank.
Electronic Registration for Copyright
When you are registering your copyright, you must submit a copy of your book. You have the option to submit a copy digitally via eCO, the US government’s electronic Copyright Office. In fact, the government recommends that you submit it digitally.
Check out these video tutorials on copyright.gov.
Are you allowed to register your book’s copyright online? You are allowed to register your copyright online, no matter what. You are allowed to upload an electronic copy of your copyrighted work if one or more of the following conditions is met:
- The work is unpublished.
- The work has been published only in electronic format.
- You are using the group registration options for unpublished works, serials, newspapers, newsletters, photographs, short online literary works, contributions to periodicals, or secure test items.
- The eCO agrees to accept electronic copies under a grant of special relief.
How can you digitally submit a copy of your copyrighted work? Here’s how to do it, according to instructions from copyright.gov:
- When payment is complete, you will see the “Payment Successful” screen.
- Click the “Continue” button on the upper right of the “Payment Successful” screen.
- Click the green “Select files to upload” button in the “Deposit Submission” table. A window with fields for browsing and selecting files to be uploaded should appear.
- Select the file(s) to be uploaded for the work being registered. As they are selected, the file names will be displayed under the green “Select Files to upload” button.
- After selecting all files for the work, click the blue “Start Upload” button.
- When all files have been uploaded for the work, click the green “Complete Your Submission” button.
- If you submitted multiple applications together, repeat these steps for each application to upload an electronic copy of the work(s).
Physical Registration for Copyright
You must send in copies of your book to the US Copyright Office if you’re registering your copyright. You may send in physical copies of your book, though this is not recommended.
According to copyright.gov, a physical deposit must be submitted by mail if either of the following is true:
- The book was published in or outside of the US before you submitted your copyright claim, and the book was published in a physical form, such as a paperback book, OR
- The book was published in the US before you submitted your copyright claim, and the book was published both in a physical and an electronic form.
Address copyright registrations for non-play literary works to:
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20559-6000
Step 3: Include a Copyright Notice
Finally, you need to include a copyright notice, which is more straightforward than it might sound. A published work with a copyright registration requires a copyright notice.
The copyright notice has 3 required elements:
- The copyright symbol ©, (c), “Copyright,” or “Copr”
- Year of first publication (and year of newest publication, if different)
- Author’s name (can be a pen name)
Here’s an example of a copyright notice:
© 2021 Jane Doe
According to the Copyright Office, placement of the copyright notice can be in any of the following locations in your book: (Source: U.S. Copyright Office)
- Title page
- Immediately after the title page
- Either side of the front cover
- Either side of the back cover
- The first page of the story proper
- The last page of the story proper
- Anywhere between the title page and the first page of the story proper, if there are no more than 10 pages between the front page and the first page of the main body of the work, and the notice is reproduced prominently and is set apart from the other matter on the page where it appears
- Any page between the last page of the story proper and the back cover, if there are no more than 10 pages between the last page of the main body of the work and the back page, and the notice is reproduced prominently and is set apart from the other matter on the page where it appears
Authors or publishers often dedicate a copyright page solely to display the copyright notice, rights reserved notice, and other information. The copyright page usually appears right after the title page as part of the front matter.
For more info about the front matter and back matter of your book, check out Kindlepreneur’s article on Parts of a Book.
You may want to add information near the copyright notice. For example, you can add your contact information (or publisher’s contact information) so that people seeking rights or permissions to excerpt your work can contact you.
Placing a copyright notice on your book makes any readers aware that copyright rights are claimed for this work. A copyright notice helps prevent a defendant in an infringement action from limiting liability based on an “innocent” infringement defense.
The copyright notice also identifies the year of first publication, which may be used to determine the term of copyright protection for works such as an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire.
Learn more about the elements of a copyright page.
Copyright Terms You Need to Know
To ensure you can gain the most out of your legitimately copyrighted book and know your rights, take note of these copyright terms:
- Copyright infringement
- Libelous writing
- Fair use
- Intellectual property
- Public domain work
The act of using a person's copyrighted work without their permission, thus infringing upon their exclusive rights as the copyright holder.
To publish or broadcast, either in print or online, false information about an individual that will negatively impact their reputation. This is usually done by casting the individual in question in a negative light.
Printing or presenting someone else's work or ideas as your own without their consent, or incorporating their ideas and work as part of your work without informing them or asking for consent, thus infringing upon their rights as the exclusive copyright holder.
The copying or use of copyrighted material in transformative works or derivative works (two similar but different terms).
Examples of transformative works or derivative works might be reviews, criticisms, parodies, or general comments. Under fair use, it is legal to use copyrighted work in transformative ways without the consent of the copyright holder.
For instance, a person may publish a review of your book, including excerpts or other information generally covered by copyright, without your permission under fair use.
The intangible creations of human intellect, such as copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Thus, books are classed as intellectual property, whether printed or in eBook format.
Public Domain Work
A Public Domain Work is not protected by copyright, trademark, patent, or intellectual property laws. One can be used without permission or cost.
There are several criteria that a work must fall under to be considered public domain. You can view these criteria here.
Other FAQs for Book Copyright
Do I have to register my copyright?
No, you don’t have to register your copyright rights for your book. You own the copyright the moment you write the words.
However, registering your copyright earns you several legal benefits. I generally recommend book authors register their copyright.
Do I have to renew my copyright?
No, you don’t have to renew your copyright. For works created on or after January 1, 1978, there is no renewal requirement.
How long does my copyright last?
A book copyright created after January 1, 1978, is effective for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
Works published 1924-1977 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication.
Works published in the US before 1924 are in the public domain.
If you wrote your work as a work for hire for your company or hired a writer to write on a work for hire basis for you or your company, then the copyright lasts for 95 years from publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever is longer.
What if I revise my book and release a new edition?
If you revise your book and release a new edition, you need to complete a new copyright registration. In the new registration, you can reference the earlier edition and registration.
What if I use material from another source in my book?
If you use material from another source in your book, you need to note this in your copyright registration.
If you are using material from another writer or publisher, obtain permission in writing to use the material. Save the permission document in your files for your book should a question ever arise regarding ownership or permissions.
If you use public domain material, you do not have to seek permission, but you have to note it in the registration.
What if I hire a writer to write some or all of my books?
If you hire a writer to write some or all of your book(s), always have a written contract that states that the work being produced by the writer is being created as “work for hire” and that you (or your company) own the rights to the work.
The “work for hire” phrase is a crucial legal phrase that needs to be included so it is clear that the writer does not retain ownership of any copyright rights.
You can still register the copyright of a book that was written for you as work for hire. You will just need to indicate in the registration application that it is a work for hire and you (or your company) are considered the “author” for copyright registration purposes.
You may also need to provide proof of ownership of the work for hire. This is where the signed written contract will come in handy.
What if I use a free stock photo or purchase a photo?
If you use a free stock photo or purchase an image from a stock photography website, double-check the license that comes with that photo. You may have to buy a standard or extended license to legally use the image in question. Some free stock image sites require certain credits to be given when using their images.
It's best to err on the side of caution when using stock images in your book cover design. Ensure the image you've selected is available for commercial use.
If you'd like to read more about stock photos, licensing, and copyright, take a look at this helpful article that goes into more detail.
What if I quote a famous person? Do I need to add that to my copyright?
As a general rule of thumb, you don't need to add anything to your copyright if you quote a famous person. This is true as long as you correctly attribute your quote to them and the manner in which you're using the quote is in either a positive or neutral tone. This falls under fair use.
However, if you're writing an entire book of just quotes by famous people, that wouldn't be fair use, and you would have to acquire consent from the various parties.
If you’re negatively quoting them, you step into the potentially dangerous territory of libelous writing. Discuss this with your attorney if you feel it is essential to include a negative quote by a well-known person in your written work.
What if I quote a song or its lyrics?
It's best not to quote song lyrics in your books unless you're prepared to get in contact with the original artists or their agents/representatives to get permission. You absolutely must include their consent on the copyright page of your book if you obtain permission.
Even partial song lyrics should be correctly attributed, and the relevant permissions should be acquired.
Have you registered for a book copyright?
I hope this article will help you register a copyright claim for your fantastic book. I understand how long it takes to write a book. It would be a shame if you weren’t legally protected in the worst-case scenario.
Copyrights and the registration process can seem intimidating at first, but don’t fret. If you can write a book, you have what it takes to protect that book.
Check out 15-Minute Copyright for Writers. This is a training resource I created to lead authors through the step-by-step copyright process in 15 minutes or less. It includes screenshots, like all good digital guides. You can download and start using it right away to get your writing protected.
As always, comment your thoughts and questions below. My good friend Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur always keeps up with comments!