Copyrighting a Book: Important Information for Authors

In the book publishing world of today, copyrighting your book seems like the least of your worries—but as an author, it’s important that you understand not only your legal rights as a writer, but how to defend them. Your career could depend on it.

To make things easier, we’ve addressed some of the most common questions our copyrighting division has received from authors. Hopefully this will serve to clear up some of the confusion out there surrounding some of the finer points of copyright law as it relates to your book.

I’ve heard that a copyright is automatic. Why should I register with the US Copyright Office?

Authors should fully understand copyrights before registering their books.
Authors should fully understand copyrights before registering their books.
It’s true—you automatically own your copyright the minute you set pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, for that matter). This is true of photography, music, poems, paintings: you name it, if it’s copyrightable, the copyright protection is automatic.

Regardless, there are two very good reasons it’s generally a good idea to register your copyrights with the Copyright Office:

  1. It creates a public record of your filing, allowing would-be licensees to easily locate your contact information.
  2. It gives you the legal ability to take someone to court if they use your book without permission.

For more information, take a look at the US Copyright Office’s “Copyright Basics” circular.

I’m not finished with my book yet. If I give you a summary of the book, will that protect the book itself?

There are two reasons that this does not copyright your book:

  1. Ideas are not copyrightable.
  2. The Copyright Office needs an actual copy of your work in order to protect it.

A summary just spells out the idea of what your book will be, so according to the first point, this isn’t going to work.

With respect to the second point, in order to register your book with the Copyright Office, a physical or digital copy of it must be submitted along with the registration documents. If your book isn’t finished, it cannot be delivered to the Copyright Office and therefore cannot be protected.

In other words: while there is nothing stopping you from registering a summary of your book for copyright registration, this process will register the summary itself—not the book.

Do I have to put a copyright notice on my book?

Using the copyright symbol is not a legal requirement.
Using the copyright symbol is not a legal requirement.
No; this is no longer a requirement. The responsibility of respecting a copyright is on the potential infringer, not the author—”But I didn’t realize it was copyrighted” is not a legal defense to copyright infringement regardless of whether or not the copyright symbol and noticewere on the book.

But, of course, bringing legal action against someone takes time, money, and effort. If you do put a copyright symbol and notice on your book, you might scare someone away from using your work as his or her own, saving yourself the trouble of dealing with an infringement suit down the line. It shows that you’re serious about your writing and your rights.

 [For more information on this topic, check out Click and Copyright’s tools for authors!]

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