When I wrote my first book quite a few years ago, I wanted to be sure no one could steal it, so I started investigating how to copyright a book. It turns out that since then no one has tried to steal it, so I guess my advance research and preparation worked!

I learned that in most of the countries of the world—those that belong to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, my work is protected from the moment I create it in a readable format—and so is yours. In other words, it can’t be scratched on napkins or bits of note paper that I keep in a shoebox under my bed. The key word here is readable. So I—and you—own the copyright to our original work that we have produced in readable form either on paper or on our computers. But read on for ways to protect your copyright.

The current list of countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention can be found at the  World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) website. If you are considering publishing in various countries, ask your publisher or your attorney about the need to register in all countries where your work will be published. You can also contact an intellectual property lawyer to talk about your situation.

How to Copyright a Book – 5 Steps

  1. Once your book is created in readable form on paper or on a computer, register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office via a paper application or online at the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). The standard registration fee for electronic registration is $65, or $45 to register a copyright for one work by one author that is not a work for hire. The fee for paper applications is $125.
  2. Provide a copy of your work to the copyright office. 
  3. If your work is to be published or distributed in the U.S., send two copies to the Library of Congress.
  4. Feel free to approach publishers or agents before you receive the copyright from the Copyright Office.
  5. Place the copyright symbol (©) on your work with the date of original publication. 

So what is a copyright anyway? 

According to Barron’s Law Dictionary, it is the protection of the works of artists and authors, giving them the exclusive right to publish their works or determine who may publish them. The copyright owner may authorize others to use his or her work. Titles or ideas cannot be copyrighted—only created and readable works. 

Do I need to copyright my book?

You might be thinking, If I own the copyright automatically when I create a readable work, why would I need to do anything else? The reason is that to sue for infringement of your copyright in federal court, you need a registered copyright, which is a public record of your authorship. 

And whether you register your copyright or not, you need to provide two copies of any work published or distributed in the U.S. to the Library of Congress within three months of the date the work first becomes available. If there are print copies of your work, you must submit a print copy. If you only published online or in an electronic format, you can submit a digital copy.

You can register in the United States of America with the U.S. Copyright office or online by creating an account and logging into the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). Copyright protection means that your rights as an author belong solely to you unless you choose to, for example, sell them to a publisher.

It’s a good idea to place the copyright symbol (©) on your work with the date of original publication. This lets people know that you understand your rights. 

How much does it cost to copyright a book and how long does it take?

The standard registration fee for electronic registration is $65. But the fee is $45 to register a copyright for one work by one author that is not a work for hire, which is when a writer is hired to write or ghostwrite a book and is paid for his or her work under an agreement with the author/and or publisher. Then the copyright is owned by the party who hired the writer to produce it, who could be an individual or a publisher. 

Electronic applications take between two and three months to process.For paper applications, the filing fee is $125 and the processing time is ten to fifteen months.

Should I copyright my book before submitting it?

You can show your book to editors and agents before you register it with the copyright office. These folks won’t risk their reputations to steal a book from its author.

Are self-published books copyrighted?

Yes. If your work was only published online or in digital format and you don’t want to register your copyright, you’re still responsible for sending a copy of the work to the Library of Congress by downloading it and submitting the media file.

How long do book copyrights last? When does the copyright expire?

If your work was created after January 1, 1978, your copyright protection lasts for your lifetime plus an additional 70 years. You aren’t required to renew your registration.

A copyright is for the benefit of you, the author, so taking the time to register might pay big dividends down the road . . . and be well worth the effort.

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Barbara Kimble
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