Copyright infringement. It’s a nightmare scenario for authors and just about anyone who creates anything; artists, musicians, games designers, and more. Even if you’re not perfectly clear about what copyright infringement means, we all know intuitively that it’s a bad thing for our work and our ability to earn a profit from that work. Without a doubt, when you’re publishing, you have to secure your book’s copyright.
That doesn’t mean copyright and the legal implications associated with copyright law are easy to understand. In fact, aside from questions about how to format and layout a book, the thing I hear most from authors is something like “how do I copyright my book?”
While I will answer that question, first we need to review what ‘copyright’ actually means and how this legal standard protects your intellectual property.
What Is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of legal protection provided by United States law to ensure your work cannot be stolen or reused without your permission. The full definition provided by the US Copyright office is:
I suggest reading that definition a couple of times because it’s pretty dense. The essential part is that copyright does protect your original works, but it does not protect the idea or concept. If you dream up a story about mice building a rocket and flying off into space, anyone else could have the same idea. The story you actually publish (Space-Mouse? Rocket Rodents?) is protected from being used by anyone other than you to earn profit, but that wouldn’t stop another writer from creating new content based on your idea.
The Harry Potter stories are a terrific modern example of this. Of course, you can write a story about kids discovering their magical abilities at a school while avoiding the peril of powerful adults wielding their own magic. What you can’t do is write that same story about three kids named Harry, Hermione, and Ron.
Copyright protects the specific, unique thing you create from being used by someone else to earn a profit.
Why Is It Important To Copyright Your Book?
For the majority of authors, you’ll go through the motions to ensure your copyright is secure, but you’ll never have to do anything with that copyright notice.
That’s because your copyright is only something you have to use if someone else is attempting to make money off your work. And, luckily for most of us, that’s not likely to happen. If you’re an indie author, you know how hard it is to sell your book in a market crowded with new stories.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to copyright your own work. In fact, in the United States, just creating the story and putting a copyright notice in the body technically copyrights that work. Though that’s not quite enough to protect you in the event someone steals your work and sells it as their own. That’s why the US Copyright Office hosts a repository of copyrighted works.
How To Copyright A Book
There are two parts to copyrighting your book. First, you need to create a copyright page that lists you as the copyright holder, including the copyright symbol and the year in which you created this original work. This is a necessary part of your book’s front matter and should be included in anything you publish.
This is the easiest part of claiming your copyright and protecting your work. You can easily get an idea about what the page should look like from any book on your bookshelf. Some will have a lot of material–such as the mention of people, places, or events that are fictitious but related to actual events or notices about the original artwork.
For the simplest copyright notice, you can do something like this:
Copyright Year: 2022
Copyright Notice: by John Doe. All rights reserved.
The above information forms this copyright notice: © 2022 by John Doe. All rights reserved.
Include your own name, of course, and update the year to match the year your project is published. This notice alone is enough to claim the work as your own.
But if you plan to publish and sell your work, it is worthwhile to register your book with the US Copyright Office.
Self-Publishing: Who Holds The Copyright?
This is a question we get asked a lot. And it’s a fair one; if I’m using a service like Lulu to publish and print my book, I want to be sure I’m keeping the rights to that work. Fortunately, the answer is simple:
When you self-publish with Lulu, you hold all rights to your work. Period. It’s your work and you own it.
Here’s what it looks like when you’re publishing your book:
In fact, if a self-publishing company doesn’t ensure you are the only copyright holder, they’re not really a self-publishing company. They’re a traditional publisher or a scam. So be very careful to review the documentation associated with any publisher or printer you are considering to be certain you hold on to your rights.
Registering Copyright For Your Intellectual Property
The copyright notice in your book forms the copyright protection for that work. When you then submit the book to the Copyright Office, you’ll ensure that you can make the irrefutable argument in court that this is your original work. Without registering the book, you’ll still have the copyright (based on the notice you include in the book) but making that argument in the event that you have to defend your copyright becomes more difficult.
Follow these five steps to register your published book with the US Copyright Office.
Step 1 – Understand Your Copyright
The first thing you’ll need to do is navigate to the Library of Congress site and determine the right licensing for your work. The page includes some details about works that don’t fit the definition of ‘literary’ so you can find the license application you need. For most authors, you’ll want to use the Register a Literary Work button to start the process.
Step 2 – Create An Account
You’ll need to create an account with the Copyright Office and provide them with some basic information about yourself. Once you’ve got your account set up, you’ll be ready to start your copyright application.
Step 3 – Fill Out The Correct Form
You’ll be presented with a webpage that looks like it’s straight out of 2003:
I recommend reading the linked help articles before you get started on the form. Once you’re ready, click ‘Start Registration’ to add information for your copyright.
Step 4 – Pay The Fee
The basic copyright license incurs a $45 fee. You can read more about all the Copyright Office’s fees in this PDF they offer. This fee is a one-time cost, you won’t need to renew it.
Step 5 – Submit A Copy Of Your Book
Finally, you need to submit a copy of your work. Luckily, you can do so electronically using a variety of file types. This will save you some money, as you no longer have to send the US Copyright Office a printed copy of your book. Now you can copyright your book by simply submitting the print-ready PDF.
Your Book And Copyright Protection
It’s important to note that you will need to finish publishing your book before you can go through the Copyright Office to register it. Part of the publishing process includes adding the copyright notice to your book; don’t skip this or rush it and create an inaccurate page. The copyright page doesn’t need to be complex, but it absolutely needs to be present.
With your work copyright protected, you can rest easy knowing that your financial interests in your work are safe and that you’ll have recourse should anyone attempt to steal or co-opt your original work.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.