© Copyright 2009 Melinda Copp
Copyrighting your book is an important step in the process of becoming an author because it helps protect against people taking or using your work without permission. But how do you get a copyright? And when should you file for one? If you’re unsure about how to protect your work, consider the following suggestions.
First, a quick disclaimer: I am not a copyright attorney, and this article should not be taken as legal advice. Please use this only as a guide for where to find more information about how to protect your work. And, keep in mind that this is for authors in the United States. Copyright laws in other countries may be different.
Okay, so here are the most common questions about copyrighting a book.
How do I copyright my book?
The process is actually pretty easy. After your book is published, all you have to do is go to the U.S. Copyright Office web site at www.copyright.gov, download and complete the paperwork, and send it in with your payment and two bound copies of your book. If you like, you can file for your copyright before your book is published, but then after publication, you’ll need to re-file it as a published work.
Do I need to copyright my book before I show it to an agent/editor/writing coach/colleague/teacher?
No. As soon as you write your book, it’s actually copyrighted. You automatically own all the copyrights to everything you write, and if someone tries to take it and claim it as theirs, you can pursue legal action against them and win. Filing an official copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office just gives you added protection in case something should happen.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a potential client to send me their manuscript and they’ve said, “I haven’t copyrighted it yet-so how do I know you’re not going to steal it?” This is a common concern, but in all the years I’ve worked in the book world, I’ve never heard of anyone having their manuscript stolen by an editor or agent. Ever. Why? Because, like I said, your work is legally copyrighted as soon as you write it.
What about the title-can I copyright that?
Sorry. You can’t copyright a title, which means that anyone can use the exact same title you’ve used for your book. However, you may be able to trademark it. For more information on that, visit www.uspto.gov for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
How can I copyright my book idea?
You can’t. Copyrights don’t protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods. If you write a description of your idea, or draw a picture of it, then you can copyright that.
Can I put the copyright symbol on my work, even if I haven’t filed the official paperwork?
Yes, and you should. Use the symbol of the lowercase “C” inside the circle, or just (c), followed by the date the work was created
to show that your work is protected. Protecting your book with a copyright is essential. When you do it is up to you, but you’ll definitely want to file a copyright for your book after publication. It will help protect your work against plagiarism and use without permission. And if you have additional questions, the U.S. Copyright Office web site or talk to a copyright attorney.