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Copyright Your Book


This explanation is intended to provide a basic understanding of copyright law. It is not a substitute for the advice of an intellectual property attorney if you believe you may have serious legal interests to protect. 

What does a copyright cover?  It does not protect an “intangible” such as an idea; it only protects works that are tangible and written or recorded in some way.  Oddly enough, it also does not extend to titles, which is why you may have noticed over the years that many authors and artists have used identical titles for their work.


Methods for Registering a Copyright

U.S. Copyright Office

There are several ways to register your copyright.  The first is to do it “by the book” and register with the Library of Congress’ U. S. Copyright Office in Washington, D. C. or via their website:  There is a fee for registering, and you may have a particular legal reason for going this route, but there are less expensive (as in free) ways to do this.  


To understand how “free” is possible, be aware that the United States is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, as are most other countries.  Because of this, your work is protected from the moment you create it in a format that is “perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  What that means is that you automatically own the copyright to any original work you create—as long as you commit it to readable form.


As you see, because of the Berne Convention, it is not legally necessary to officially file with the government.  If you choose to go the extra mile and register your copyright, however, be sure to keep all forms and receipts, whether your submission is physical or electronic.

The bottom line here is that, as codified by the Berne Convention, copyright is effective the moment your book is created.  Nothing needs to be filed; you simply need to follow one of the following procedures:



To announce to the world that you own the copyright to your work, simply use the copyright symbol (©) preceded by the year. (See the example below.) This self-proclamation, vis-a-vis the aforementioned Berne Convention agreement, will protect you, should there be a legal ownership dispute in the future.


Other Methodologies

U.S. Postal Service:  If you feel you want to “buy more insurance,” a time-tested way of registering your copyright is to mail a copy of the manuscript to yourself via the U. S. Postal Service.  Use certified mail, return receipt requested.  This is known as “the poor man's copyright,” but it is perfectly legal.  Naturally, if you go to all this trouble, you will want to save all the paperwork, as the postmark and signed return receipt will be evidence of the date of your copyright.  Do not open your package once you receive it, however, or the process will be invalid.


Friends:  Show your manuscript to your friends and family. By showing it, you will have witnesses that you can call upon should you need anyone to verify the date of your copyright.


Publish:  Publish your work with your copyright clearly visible.   


Example of Wording

Copyright © 2014 John Doe.  All rights reserved.  Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 and all subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.





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