Many authors who choose to self-publish their books may wonder if they should also get a copyright. But is having a copyright actually necessary? Is your book already protected without a copyright? We aren’t lawyers, but the experts at Self-Publishing Relief have some facts that could help you make your decision about whether or not to copyright your book. Here are the copyright facts that writers need to know when self-publishing.
Note: If you need more details, we recommend consulting a lawyer familiar with copyright and intellectual property law.
Important Copyright Facts For Writers
The Definition of Copyright
A copyright legally establishes that your book is your own intellectual property, and that only you can publish and distribute it. Copyright ensures that your book can’t be copied by anyone else or sold or used without your permission. This includes publication, of course, but your copyright also means you control other aspects such as translation and performance of your work. Note, though, that copyright protection is only in your own country—each country has its own set of copyright laws!
How To Note Copyright
A proper copyright involves more than just the “©” symbol (though that’s important too!). For a correct legal copyright statement, you need:
- The word “copyright” or the symbol “©.”
- The year your work was first published. You may eventually reissue your work and need to add that year as well. Also, copyrights only last for your lifetime plus seventy years, so if someone renews your copyright after your death, the renewal year will need to be included also.
- The name of the copyright owner (for your self-published book—that’s you!).
If you flip through the first few pages of a published book, you may see a copyright statement. Example: The Best Book Ever. © Jane A. Smith, 2020. Copyright pages often also include the line “All Rights Reserved,” or sometimes even a longer passage of legalese, which may be required in some countries.
Owning A Copyright Vs. Registering A Copyright
Great news: United States copyright law states that your work is protected and solely owned by you as soon as you put pen to paper—or, in this digital age, as soon as you put fingers to keyboard! However, if you need to take legal action to protect your copyright from someone who has stolen your work, you’ll have an extra layer of legal protection if you register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
While it’s sometimes necessary to register the copyright for your book with the government, most situations don’t require a copyright statement. In these instances, basic copyright protection is enough:
- Submitting an unpublished manuscript to a literary agent or journal.
- Sending your manuscript or excerpts by email.
Also, some things cannot be protected by copyright, no matter how much we want them to be: general book ideas, titles, characters’ names, and short phrases.
Situations Where You Might Want To Register Or State Copyright
Even though U.S. copyright law certifies that your work is yours the moment you start creating it, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office makes it easier for you to take legal action if your copyright is infringed. A statement of copyright can also act as a deterrent to warn off potential plagiarizers. If others repost your writing with permission, they should include your copyright statement for your protection (and theirs). And consider copyrighting your author website too!
How To Register Your Copyright
If your book is published traditionally, your publisher will register the copyright in your name. However, self-published writers must do this themselves. You can copyright your book at any point, but it’s best to do so before your book hits shelves (virtual or physical). The process can be completed online, and there is a fee. Keep in mind it may take a few months to get your copyright. Register a literary work online through the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office.
Bonus: When you register your copyright, your book can be assigned a Library of Congress number.
What To Do If Your Copyright Is Infringed
Unfortunately, pirates are out there and your work may be stolen by someone trying to pass it off as their own. If you have registered your copyright within three months of publication, you have several options, including suing in federal court and sending legal notices requiring the copier to remove the work from circulation. A lawyer familiar with copyright law and intellectual property will be able to help you with this process.
Our Legal Caveat: Again, we are not lawyers, so we cannot and do not give advice about legal questions. This article is for basic information only. Any and all legal issues relating to your self-published book should be discussed with a copyright lawyer.
Question: Have you ever registered a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office?