How to Copyright a Book
The best news for new authors is that your book or other literary work is copyrighted as soon as you put the words on paper. The Copyright Amendment Act of 1989 states that even unofficially copyrighted creative works have a built-in “copyright” affect allowing the author to claim their originality without all the red tape. So your book or other written document is automatically copyrighted as soon as you write it.
The easy way to claim your creative rights to your work (allowed under the 1989 amendment) is simply to put the symbol (c) on the work followed by the year it was written and the name of the author. This symbol shows that your work is original and you own it.
If you want something a little more official, a copyright from the US government is not all that difficult to get. There are basically only two steps to copyrighting your document.
1. Complete Form TX
To file an official copyright, stating officially that your work is your original property, there is a little bit of paperwork that must be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. When you file that form, you’ll also be required to pay a small registration fee. A simple way to get hold of that form is to visit the US copyright website to download the form for free. Form TX contains all the instructions you need to fill out the paperwork and send it in to the proper authorities.
Be aware that Form TX isn’t the proper copyright form for everything that can be copyrighted. Form TX covers books of all kinds, including novels, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, directories, reference books, catalogs, some software programs, advertising copy, and some forms of music. The full details on exactly what can be copyrighted using Form TX are at the website given above.
Other types of writing require other forms. For example, if you plan on publishing your work in serial form (or as a periodical publication) you’ll need to use Form SE.
2. File the paperwork at the right time
The good news is that the “right time” is pretty much whatever time you decide. If you choose to file your paperwork before your writing is published, you can do so, but be aware that you’ll have to refile for copyright if you want to protect a published version. In the case of an unpublished manuscript, you’ll only need to send in one copy of the unpublished writing along with your completed paperwork and your fee.
If you want to save money, and plan to publish your writing, just wait to file the copyright paperwork until after you publish. That’ll save you at least one copyright fee.
If you are copyrighting a published document, you’ll need to send two copies of your book or manuscript to the copyright office along with your completed paperwork and fee. When copyrighting a published piece, you must send in professionally bound copies, as published, and not photocopies of the original.
Tips About Copyright
Interestingly enough, you are not allowed to copyright a book’s title. The title of the book is not considered part of the creative work, considering most titles are only a few words long and don’t really constitute a unique creative decision. Think of the trouble it would cause authors if titles of copyrighted works could not be re-used. The copyright only applies to the information or writing contained in the piece you’re copyrighting — in other words, you copyright the specific words you use, the order you use them in, and the way you use them (your style).
Basically, when you copyright a document, you’re protecting how the information is written down, not the information contained in the book.
The Dangers of Not Securing a Copyright
If you write a creative work and you do not file proper copyright registration with the appropriate copyright office, the main penalty is the limitation to the amount of damages you can sue for in the case of copyright infringement. Yes, your work is automatically protected as soon as you create it, but the damages you can seek will be extremely limited. There have been civil cases for copyright infringement valued at $30,000 per infringing act (each printed version of a copyright infringement earns the original author a cool thirty grand) or as much as $150,000 per each willful act of copyright infringement, which is usually limited to a single act of copyrighting. The only way to have access to these highest level of financial rewards is by copyrighting with the proper authorities.
How Long Does My Copyright Last?
All works created after 1978 can be copyrighted for the author’s lifetime plus an additional 70 years. After that time elapses, the copyright is up for bidding, though in most cases (with big name books) the author’s estate will continue to control copyright for years after the original expiration. This is another great reason to secure a copyright — you want to create long lasting evidence of your creation, and assuming a simple copyright without filing for it can only last as long as you’re alive. As an added bonus, U.S. Copyright law is recognized in seventy different countries around the world — we even allow people from any country in the world to file for a U.S. copyright protection with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. United States copyright law is far reaching.
How to Give Proper Credit
Be aware that under certain circumstances, you may have to give partial credit for your copyrighted work to an employer or higher up, especially if you’re publishing work that was part of a school curriculum or was work you researched for your job. This really applies to teachers for the most part — but anyone who wants to publish something that was first developed in a work situation, you’ll need to give your employer or other administrator a notice of credit in your publication. Work that is covered under these circumstances is called “work for hire”, and could be considered property of your employer.
Many times, teachers or professors end up publishing material that they first covered in a class setting, such as part of a lesson plan. The school they work for technically owns that lesson plan, so partial credit must be made to that school. Don’t worry, you can still copyright your work even if it is “work for hire”. If the work you’re copyrighting was ever within the scope of your job, you must give proper credit. Luckily, there’s a section on the various copyright forms that is designed for this function.
For new authors just getting started in their literary and creative careers, getting an official copyright is an important rite of passage. Authors usually do this after finishing their first long piece of creative work, or to mark their first big publication. Whatever your reason for getting a copyright on your book, securing official rights to your document is a painless process of paperwork and filing.
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