How Do I Register a Copyright for My Book?

Registering a copyright for your new book is actually surprisingly simple. It's also a necessary first step in protecting your new book from infringement.
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by | Last updated Jul 8, 2020 | Published on Jul 7, 2020 | Intellectual Property Law

You’ve successfully written your first book, and now you’re wondering what to do next.

From a lawyer’s perspective, the most important next step is often to register a copyright for your new book.

Importantly, it’s often a good idea to register your copyright sooner rather than later, as waiting for a few months (or years) may weaken your copyright claim.

In this article we’ll discuss the basics of registering a copyright for your new book.

However, while you can do so yourself, it’s still often wise to discuss your options with a copyright attorney first to help ensure the strength of your legal protections.

Why Should I Register a Copyright for My Book?

Man hands writing in the diary, coffee mug and laptop on wooden table

One of the most common questions people have about copyrights is “why should I take all these additional steps to register my copyright when I already have basic copyright protections?”

The answer to this question is actually quite simple.

To summarize, you have a copyright to your work as soon as you finish writing it.

However, the strength of your copyright, and whether or not you can enforce your rights in court, will largely depend on whether you’ve formally registered a copyright for your book.

For example, let’s say you wrote a fantasy novel set in the fictitious world of Mendacium.

You spend several chapters of your book describing a rich and detailed history and geography of this world, even going so far as to invent a new language to draw location names from.

Then, after completing the final draft of your novel, you post a few chapters on your blog and ask for feedback from your friends and fans.

A few months down the line, as you’re finishing up your negotiations with your new publisher, a friend sends you a link to another book that contains a setting eerily similar to your own.

From the place names to the history of this other book’s locations, everything matches the descriptions you gave in the chapters you posted online.

What do you do?

The Solution

The answer, from a legal perspective, is to file a copyright infringement lawsuit so as to protect your ideas and stop the other author from benefiting from your hard work.

However, a necessary prerequisite for filing a copyright infringement claim is actually registering a formal copyright in the first place.

Further, actually winning such a lawsuit is often difficult, as you’ll have to prove several facts to the court such as (1) that you wrote the material first (and not concurrently but separately from the other author), and (2) that the other author directly stole parts of your intellectual property.

While such an infringement lawsuit is certainly possible, it will take longer and cost more to resolve than if you’d simply spent $45 to electronically register a copyright for your work after you completed your final draft.

Much like with other areas of law, the person who registers / asserts their rights first will often have an upper hand in any potential litigation that happens down the line.

For this reason (and due to the relatively low barriers and costs of entry for registering online) it’s always in your best interests to register a copyright for your new book as soon as you complete your final draft.

How to Register a Copyright for Your Book: The Basic Process

Registering a copyright for your book is actually surprisingly simple and, in some cases, takes less than an hour to complete.

The basic process goes as follows:

  1. First, go to https://copyright.gov/registration. This is the main registration portal that you will use to register your first copyright.
  2. Scroll down the page and click on a link called “Literary Works: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Articles, and Periodicals.”
  3. Read this page in its entirety. Pay particular attention to the links at the bottom of the page under the “Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System” and “Video Tutorials” dropdown menus. These sections contain important links that explain the process in full. You should review these links before you continue with your application.
  4. Click on the link labeled “Register a Literary Work” under the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System dropdown we mentioned in the previous step.
  5. This link should send you to a login page. If you already have an account you should type in your user ID and password here to access the registration system. If you do not have an account you should look for the “New User” link below the actual login button and then create an account.
  6. Once you’re inside the registration portal go to the “Copyright Registration” section and click the link that says “Register a New Claim.”
  7. Click “Start Registration.”
  8. Complete the application form, which will ask you basic information about your work. Remember that you can preview the standard application by clicking the link on the literary works registration page (or download it directly as a PowerPoint).
  9. After you finish the application you’ll have to pay a small fee of $45. (Note this was $35 prior to March 2020’s changes in the fee schedule)
  10. Finally, you should attach an electronic copy of the “best edition” of your manuscript. You can find the Copyright Office’s list of acceptable file types on their website. You’ll also have to submit a hard copy of your manuscript to the Library of Congress.

The Copyright Office will formally register your copyright once you complete your application and the system accepts your payment.

They will then send you a formal certificate to your listed home address once they finish processing your application.

Paper Applications

If you’re not comfortable submitting an application online you also have the option of submitting a paper application.

The process is generally the same, as you’ll just have to meet the basic requirements of (1) providing information about yourself and your literary work, (2) paying the $125 (previously $85) filing fee for paper applications, and (3) sending in a best edition of your manuscript.

Note, however, that it takes the Copyright Office much longer to process paper applications, even sometimes up to 12-15 months.

While you’ll have a copyright for your work as soon as you mail in the applications, this is still a long time to wait when the electronic version only takes around 5-6 months to fully process.

What’s the “Best Edition” of My Manuscript?

Put simply, the best edition of your work is “the edition, published in the United States at any time before the date of deposit, that the Library of Congress determines to be most suitable for its purposes.”

As you can see in the link above, the Library of Congress has numerous requirements for the best editions of literary works, including, but not limited to:

  • Archival-quality paper
  • Hard cover rather than soft cover
  • Special editions rather than trade editions
  • Illustrated rather than unillustrated
  • Larger rather than smaller sized fonts

Remember, though, that if you only have one type of manuscript you just have to submit that version.

For example, it’s common for online-only authors to just submit a PDF or XML version of their ebook rather than a printed-out version, since the online version is the “best” edition of their book.

What Happens if I’m Using a Pen Name or Pseudonym for My Book?

The U.S. Copyright Office explicitly states that you (the author) don’t have to use your real name in the application form.

As such, you may complete your copyright application using your pseudonym if you wish.

The one caveat is that you must fill in a name where the form asks for the name of the copyright claimant (you can’t just leave it blank).

You can find the Copyright Office’s guidelines on pseudonyms in Circular 32.

Don’t Forget About the Art

Keep in mind that you may be entitled to protect other aspects of your book such as any artwork, whether it’s on the cover or included throughout the story.

The art may be registrable separately as visual art, or if the artwork was created especially for the book, then it may be filed with the story jointly as a collective work.

If you are only the author of the story and you include someone else’s artwork, then it’s crucial to understand how that may impact filing for copyright protection.

A copyright attorney can help you review or draft contracts for artists you hire to ensure you have the necessary rights to the artwork.

Branding Your Series

If you choose to develop your book into a series or you’re considering other ways to protect your work, then do not forget about trademarks.

Your name, pseudonym, or logo that are used as a source identifier on your books may qualify to be registered as a trademark.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has specific rules to distinguish using your name merely as indicating yourself as the author contrasted with using your name as a brand.

The process for registering your trademark is inherently more complex and expensive, but most attorneys who practice copyright are also familiar with or practice trademark law, so keep this in mind.

For more information, check out or other trademark articles like United States Trademark Law: The Ultimate Guide.

Conclusion

author opens package with samples of her new book and checks the hardcover

Registering a copyright for your book is a relatively simple and cost-effective process.

As such, it’s highly recommended that authors register copyrights for their new works as soon as they’re ready for publication.

The words or the story itself are not the only protectable aspect of your book, so an experienced attorney will ensure you adequately protect ALL elements as may be necessary or practical.

If you have an issues with the application, or if you have questions about the process or copyrights in general, you should speak with an experienced copyright attorney immediately.

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James Williams

James focuses his practice on intellectual property law and family law. He is excited to assist artists, business owners, and content creators with all of their trademark and copyright concerns.

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