What is copyright registration, and why do authors need it?

If you’re working on a manuscript, you may have heard that you automatically hold the copyright on any material you write, simply by virtue of having created it. While technically true, this statement is misleading, and can cost you money should you ever have to fight for your rights in court.

Let’s look at what copyright registration is, and why you need it for your published book.

What is copyright?

The term “copyright” refers to a set of rights that you, the author, retain over your creative work. Copyright gives you the power to reproduce your work, create derivative works (writing or other products based on your original work), distribute copies, or perform/display your work publicly. In essence, you control whether and how the public gains access to your written product. If anyone uses your work for these purposes without your permission (called “copyright infringement”), you can sue for damages.

You may, of course, grant written permission for others to share some, or all, of these rights. For instance, a writer might grant rights to a movie studio to adapt their book into a film or allow the editor of an anthology to reprint one of their short stories.

You automatically hold copyright on any creative material you produce. However, legally protecting those rights is much easier if you register your copyright with the United States Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. More on that below.

What types of work can be copyrighted?

You can secure a copyright for a broad range of creative endeavors including writing, artwork and other visual creations, video, music, audio productions, dramatic performances, and even things like architecture and software. The work must be in a tangible medium and must be your own original creation.

Exactly what part of my work is covered by copyright?

Copyright protects a particular creation, but it doesn’t necessarily protect broad ideas.

For example, if you wrote a memoir about beekeeping, your copyright would not stop another author from writing their own memoir about beekeeping. “Memoirs about beekeeping” is a broad idea or genre, not a specific work. Copyright would, however, prevent another author from using your memoir’s plot and characters in their own novel. That plotline and your characters are particular to your work in a way that the subject of beekeeping is not.

Unfortunately, differentiation between specific and broad isn’t always clear-cut. The line can grow thin in copyright infringement lawsuits. It’s a good idea to read up on famous copyright cases in a variety of genres to better understand how these things tend to shake out in court.

Why is it important to register my copyright?

Registering your copyright with the Library of Congress makes it easier for you to legally protect your rights as creator. For instance:

  • If you need to sue for copyright infringement, you’ll have a stronger case in court. Registration makes it easy to prove your ownership of the material.
  • Registration with the Library of Congress allows you to sue for statutory damages in an infringement lawsuit, which will likely yield a much higher sum than suing for actual damages alone.
  • Copyright registration can act as a deterrent against infringement in the first place if your manuscript or other written work clearly states its copyright status.

How do I register a copyright?

You can gain a copyright for your manuscript in several ways.

1. Register directly with the US Copyright Office. Their web portal allows you to create an account and file an electronic application to register your work. You can also apply on paper via mail to the office. You will pay a fee with your application.

2. Register through a third-party service. Some online services such as Legalzoom will help you apply for copyright, although you will have to pay the third party a fee over and above the cost of copyright registration.

3. Register through your publisher. Once your manuscript is accepted by a publisher, your publisher can file the registration for you in your name.

This is the route that many Book Professor® authors take when they publish with our sister company, Stonebrook Publishing. Stonebrook Publishing registers the copyright for each of our authors, and that cost is included as part of the publication package.

What documents will I need for registration?

The Library of Congress will ask for three things in order to process and grant your copyright:

1. A completed application form, available on their web site.

2. A filing fee.

3. A copy of the work you’re registering.

That’s it! You can carry out the copyright process via mail, or electronically.

When in doubt, register!

Copyright registration is far more than a formality. It can save you from losing out on money and from losing control of your work. The Book Professor® advises writers to claim the copyright on their work by displaying the © symbol (example: ©2022, Nancy Erickson) on their manuscript before they show it to others or post it anywhere online (and remember, online posting is itself considered “publication”). And then, of course, register the copyright with the Library of Congress upon publication.

To find out more about the writing and publishing process used at The Book Professor®, contact us. Every day, we help aspiring authors just like you write, edit, and publish the books they’ve always wanted to write.