Copyrighting Your Work 101

Something we get asked about a lot is copyright.  As creators, we want to make sure we protect our work from intellectual property theft. And ensure that we control the publication, distribution and adaptation of what we’ve created. The problem is that copyright can confuse and there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Hopefully, I can help clear some things up and give you some resources for more information on copyright.

Please note that we focus this information on copyright in the United States. For more information on International copyrights, please check out the links at the bottom of the post.

What is Copyright?

To begin with, I will get the easy stuff out of the way. With a quick Google search, you can find the basics of what copyright is and in-depth discussion. As such, I will keep this as simple as possible. Copyright protects the rights of creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Specifically, it gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to, and to allow others the right to, reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the work. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the law to copyright holders.

For more information on what copyright entails, check out the US Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics.

How Do I Protect My Work?

The good news is that a work is considered copyrighted as soon as you create it. So, as I’m typing these words, they are simultaneously copyrighted under the law. As a result, you don’t have to do anything beyond creating your work (which, sadly, is the hard part). However, holding a registered copyright is helpful if you find yourself in litigation. With a registered certification they will give you a certificate of registration. And your work will be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation, and if the registration occurs within 5 years of publication, then it is considered prima facie evidence.

The US Copyright Office now allows online registration of copyright, making the process even easier. Of course, you can still register using paper forms, but doing so is a little more expensive, and can take longer to process. Filing for registration online is $35, and you can get started here. If you choose to file online, then you can upload your work to the copyright office or mail copies to them.

Some people claim you can create a “poor man’s copyright” by mailing a copy of your work to yourself via certified mail (or another trackable system). However, copyright law does not cover this type of protection, and as a result does not confer the same protections as registering your copyright.

What Other Options Are There?

If you are interested in protecting your work in some ways, but want to allow others to build upon and share your work, then you may be interested in using a Creative Commons license in place of a standard copyright. Creative Commons works alongside copyright, and allows you to apply a series of free attributes to your work, which you can choose whether or not to use. The license options are Attribution, Share Alike, Noncommercial, and No Derivative Works.

By assigning Attribution to your work, you give others the right to copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work as long as they give credit the way you request. Share Alike allows others to distribute derivative works, but only under the same license you have assigned to your work. Noncommercial allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work as long as it is for noncommercial purposes. Finally, No Derivative Works allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work, but not derivative works. These licenses can be combined into six licenses, which are covered on the Creative Commons site.

There you have it, the basics of copyright. I hope this was helpful.

10 thoughts on “Copyrighting Your Work 101”

  1. Nick, unfortunately I could not. I would like to order Behzad Khrosropanah’s ‘How to make mirror by spray method’ book.Could u advice where or how to order?

  2. @Melis I am sorry you were having trouble. Have you had any success since your last attempt?

  3. Nick,
    Thanks for the insightful information.
    I will apply for a copyright before sending my manuscript to Lulu.
    Thanks much***.
    Annie H.

  4. Annie,
    We usually recommend you get the ISBN after you publish the book, but I recommend you read over the information before making any decisions.
    As for copyrighting, you will need to copyright your own work. As mentioned in my post, you are technically copyrighting your work as soon as it is written, but registering that copyright is usually a good idea. Whether or not you choose to register, and if you choose to register then when in the process you register, is up to you.
    I hope that helps.

  5. Hi Nick,
    I was considering using Lulu to publish my manuscript for a Children’s Story Book but I was wondering, should I apply for a copyright and an ISBN # for my work before using Lulu or is that a service that Lulu already provides for its customers?
    Thank you for your time.
    Annie H.

  6. Robert,
    At Lulu, our goal is to make the publishing process as simple as possible so our customers can publish with ease and profit from their work. After listening to user input, we decided to discontinue the option for “Live Help” customer support via text chat as of 1/15/09. Moving forward, we will be placing a larger emphasis on our direct customer support via email, which we have found to be the most efficient and effective way to address our customers’ needs. Our efforts in this area include more user-friendly contact forms which will direct your query to the appropriate support specialist, shorter turn-around times, and staffing our support team with in-house experts.
    We would like to assure you that Lulu is committed to offering you the highest level of user support while maintaining a free-to-publish service. Throughout 2009, we pledge to continue improving our site, making it easier than ever to use while by providing richer, more useful information in our Help section, including in-depth site tutorials.
    We feel confident that this change will have minimal impact on you during the transition, and we hope it only improves the level of support you’ve come to expect from us. In the future, if you have any formatting or technical issues, then we recommend reviewing our improved Help section. If your issue deals with an order, printing, or one of the services we offer, please send your question to customer support. We appreciate your business and thank you for choosing

  7. Holly,
    No problem! Glad you liked the post.
    You will need to get your work into an electronic file to use our site. If you have questions about this, I recommend you post them to our forums.
    I’m not sure what the issue there is. I tried to replicate the issue, but the Services tab showed up for me even when I switched to the UK site. You might try reporting the issue to our support team.

  8. I have written 90 typed written pages of memoirs I’d like to publish. Can someone contact me or at least mail me some infomation on this? Thanks
    Mel McNeal
    3747 E. Bowman
    Springfield, MO

  9. Holly Jahangiri

    An excellent post, Nick! And thank you for including the link to my article. I hope your readers find it helpful.

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