How to Copyright A Book: A Guide With Gusto
Copyright laws infamously have a reputation. The content world however, would be nothing with copyright. In the absence of a law that protects content creators from theft, the door would be open for content pirates to steal at will. Creating; takes time, effort, money and resources. Should you endeavour to write a book, never think twice about whether you should copyright – if you want to make money, that is. This article ventures into how to copyright a book, intellectual property, trademark vs copyright, what are the steps to copyrighting your book, the poor man’s process and whether it is an adequate substitute.
Intellectual property can be mystifying. The world of intellectual property just like any other realm of law, can be manipulated to serve the few. Often those with deep pockets. Intellectual property also has the capacity to empower those of us who are trying to make a name for ourselves as writers. Publishing your own book is an involved experience. It demands a lot from you. After having completed the publishing experience, however, it would be prudent to then solidify that endeavor, by owning the intellectual property to your book. This is why I am hoping this guide on how to copyright a book, how to copyright your book will empower you to protect your hard work and make your money!
Technically, under international copyright law, the minute you put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard [and are under the reign of the clickity-clack of your keyboard] – as words fall onto the page; you are immediately the owner of your work. You immediately have rights to your work of authorship. Though, if someone were to replicate your work, and you were without copyright, it is almost impossible – in a court of law- for you to be rightfully reimbursed for having your content stolen. The law recognises copyright. So while it is true that ownership and authorship is instantaneous, legal fees, proceeds and compensation are not guarantees until there is public record of your copyright. Understanding how to copyright a book could be the difference between having to pay your attorney fees and it being covered by someone else.
It is not my place to comment on the integrity of the publishing industry, but in any space, there are always miscreants. There will also always be those that are in it to make a quick buck. That means that sometimes, even when dealing with publishers, or publications, your work stands at risk of being stolen, mimicked, or outrightly copied. Against a big publishing house, it holds worthwhile to understand how to copyright a book, and how to then use that understanding and ultimately the copyright itself, and its public record as a shield. Taking precautionary steps and copyrighting your manuscript before any infringement occurs can sometimes be a deterrent to any possible infractions that might have happened should there not be protections already in place. It’s sort of the same effect that security cameras have against potential theft, just the presence prevents someone from taking the chance – not always, but sometimes, and that sometimes can be a big deal.
The definition for copyright is that it gives the owner the exclusive right to use the work, with some exceptions. When a person creates an original work, fixed in a tangible medium, he or she automatically owns copyright to the work. There are some key words in the definition that are not to be overlooked such as “original” which are aspects that will need to be justified. But, overall, having exclusive ownership over your original creation is the only way you would be able to monetise your book. Without ownership – there is no profit.
Luckily, the steps and process of how to copyright a book continues to get easier. As with everything in the digital age, there is now a step-by-step process for copyrighting books, articles, song lyrics and other written content – all online.
The 7 Steps To Successful Copyright
If you’ve ever wanted a little copyright symbol of your own floating above your titled works; well, you’re in luck – below are the steps on how to copyright a book. The copyright symbol itself adds an air of legitimacy and stamps your authored work with the mark of ownership. The copyright symbol which once placed on the copyright page and throughout your book at select points, indicates the owner of the work and also affords you 6 major rights.
Those rights are:
- The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
- The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
- The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
- The right to publicly perform the copyrighted work
- The right to publicly display the copyrighted work
- The right to digitally transmit to publicly perform the copyrighted work
With the copyright symbol once attained and those rights in your pocket granted to you from the U.S Office of Copyright, you may rest easy at night knowing that that manuscript you slaved over and avoided your friends for months or maybe years is safe in your hands. It definitely helps when the brain box at night is firing out its endless slue of doubts and worries that should anyone ever try to plagiarize your work, that powerful copyright symbol (some say more dangerous than the bat symbol in the sky) will also cover your attorney fees should you need any litigation defending your copyright. Words from the wise: lawyers are expensive.
Before you get to that soundless sleep, you must first understand what it takes and how to go about copyrighting your book, and then you must go through the following 7 steps to secure your copyright:
- Visit the official copyright website
- Select the proper category.
- Create an online account.
- Select the standard application.
- Fill out the forms.
- Pay the fee
- Submit your material.
The process is also not too expensive, it usually costs under $100 to get your book copyrighted. It is also highly advisable that once you publish the book that you add a copyright page to the book including your ISBN. With this page on the book, it becomes formally visible to the viewer/reader that your book has been copyrighted and that the information is not open to being replicated. It might seem tedious, however, over time the benefits of taking the time to put this page together in the book hugely outweigh the alternative of leaving it out and risking someone copying your book and having to pursue legal action. Once you’ve understood how to copyright a book, you might as well put it to good use! If you are also looking to write more than one book and be a serial bestseller then all the more reason to acquaint yourself with the book copyrighting process. And, for those of you out there who are even entertaining the idea of potentially starting your own publishing company, or have already achieved a couple of successes in the self-publishing space and are considering starting your own organization then, it really pays to know the in and outs of copyright law and the process associated with it and where it stands even in the international publishing landscape.
Poor Man’s Road To Copyrighting Your Book
Once upon a time, I was in the midst of a thriving conversation with a screenwriter. They had evolved over the years actually to be not only a successful screenwriter but also had a thriving career as a tv producer, they had worked their way up from screenwriting to producing. The conversation was geared towards them giving me advice about the world of screenwriting, tv and all things botox and hollywood. I was slurping that advice up like perfectly cooked Ramen noodles. I was devouring information at the time from Google, in person chats, fireside chats, webinars/any forum that allowed me to lock in to other professionals that had insight into the world of writing, publishing and climbing the ladder. In that particular conversation with the screenwriter/producer, she was telling me about the time a major media company tried to steal her intellectual property! By taking ideas from a screenplay she had penned and had recycled them and used them for a hugely successful tv show that they were claiming had been an internal development they had infringed upon her rights to intellectual property. In this case not only did she know about copyright, or how to copyright a book, or in this case a screenwriter, but she had taken some extra precautions. I asked her how she handled the situation, which was when I was first introduced to the poor man’s version of copyright protection. She had the foresight to mail herself her original screenplay, the same time she mailed it to the company, and keeping the package sealed along with the slip from the post office that proved the date/time of the script being sealed and mailed, she was able to rip that baby open in the arbitration process and prove that her script had preceded any work that the media company had done. She won the case, and bought herself a beach house from the whole shebang. I was thoroughly impressed but moreover made a mental note of the process and thought to myself, this would work with publishing houses too.
Can Poor Man’s Process Replace Copyrighting Your Book?
The copyright office’s official website acknowledges the poor man’s process for its popular following, but clearly states that it is not an adequate substitute for actual copyright. Formal and official public record of copyright is the only thing that guarantees your ownership and allows you to have your legal fees covered. At the same time, there are stories like the one aforementioned of my screenwriter/producerial friend who endeavored to use the poor man’s process in a legal dispute and it worked for her. But, my personal philosophy is that if the thing can eventually end up getting you a beach house – it’s worth spending the small extra amount of money to get that official copyright mark and make it airtight. I’d say making use of the poor man’s process could be a nice supplement to actually copyrighting your book, it is not a replacement for legal copyright. The copyright process is a surefire way of proving that the created material is yours. Not only the date and time, but that you are the owner and creator of the material. The poor man’s process does not actually prove beyond all doubt that you were the creator of the work, and can therefore be subject to question. It is advisable at the end of the day to figure out how to copyright a book and to have a registered copyright with the US copyright office and not to solely rely on the poor man’s house, regardless of how cool it might seem to imagine yourself ripping open a sealed, dated envelope in the middle of a legal negotiation thus defeating a thieving publishing company and winning yourself your own beach house, I’d still forego the cinematic quality of that moment and get a proper copyright on your book.
Bringing Your Book To The Screen
There’s always a place for books to be taken to other mediums. A well written book has a lot of value. Within a well written book usually also sits the potential for a well written screenplay, podcast, audiobook, and beyond. Understanding how to copyright a book will come handy when then the time comes for you to also want to copyright other forms of authorship. Books are comprehensive and hold the launchpad to other mediums. Sometimes books succeed at turning their stories into major movie franchises; Game of Thrones, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter are all notable success stories. Sometimes books get picked up, and they don’t turn into the expansive franchises that others do (sorry Christopher Paolini), but nonetheless whenever a book wants to be taken international, either through translated works, or video transformations or movie deals, having the copyright works wonders for the author there as well. If and when the time comes, and a producer is knocking on your door filling your head with swirling dreams of how Hollywood will call your name out in homonym with the word, ‘genius’, just be sure to not only have copyright protection on your material, but an understanding with the help of a lawyer, on what type of copyright licensing are you granting the production.
Another essential aspect of copyrighting, and understanding how to copyright is knowing what exemptions there are from the rule. While copyright does have the ability to protect both published and unpublished works, copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Just to be clear; there are also ways that copyright can be circumvented; where people can extract sections or portions of your work for certain purposes that fall under what the U.S Copyright Office deems to be fair use. Usually this is what the copyright office calls as, ‘transformational purposes’ such as commenting, parodying or criticizing the original work. This is often done in academic settings, and students will often bank on the fair use clause to be able to refer to other works within their own so as to not commit plagiarism.
The Snail Mail Way
In case you, the ‘how to get a book published’ part is now fully understood and you are keen to get your book published but are an old school type, you don’t trust the internet, and things that come too quickly aren’t really reliable, that do not fret, we have just the alternate solution for you. Here’s how you can copyright a book using physical, tangible, tactile paper. You’ve written your book and have found that the rights afforded to you via copyright are most certainly worth taking the time out for, should you want to retain those rights, or perhaps sell them to the highest bidder, you first need to lock them down. But the 7 steps listed above don’t sound like your jar of jam, and so, there’s an alternate way. You can submit your paperwork via an actual paper copy to the office of copyright as well. If you do decide to mail in your application for copyright, ensure that you include a printed version of the application, a copy of your work, and the filing fee (usually around $85). Afterwhich, the only rational thing to do is buy a large case of wine, and wait. The processing time is typically 10 – 15 months for paper applications.
Any work protected by U.S. copyright can be registered, regardless of your nationality. The paperwork might take months to process. But don’t worry: the day the office receives your completed application is the effective date of registration
Copyright infringement is weirdly embedded into our culture. Copyright infringement is actually something that happens all the time, it’s one of the reasons that Youtube has a whole department dedicated to preventing it. In some form or another ideas that come to fruition borrow from ideas that already existed. This is also why there have to be clear principles by which the line is drawn in the sand for legal reasons. There’s a certain amount of overlap that is of course allowed, even by legal standards, and then a certain point after which it becomes infringement. Oftentimes, if the infringement is not too severe, or the infringement is done out of negligence and not deliberate theft/piracy, the case is resolved by a simple direct notice and perhaps some amount of arbitration. Not all infringement cases go to court. If you choose to go down the path of creating original content or written material, the first course of action is to ensure that your own ideas and material are original to survive the platitude of content that already circulates the market, if you’ve done that and then have deemed that your work is not infringing on any pre-existing material, then the next move is to ensure that nobody infringes on you. A healthy amount of borrowing between artists happens all the time, but it’s the moment that the material actually takes bread off your plate that it becomes an issue. Given that a lot of writers don’t make a lot of bread, that can be a very big issue, in fact.
Copyright vs Trademark: What’s The Difference
Among the pillars of property protection law, two milestone pillars are trademark and copyright. Besides understanding how to copyright a book, understanding the wider scope and breadth of intellectual property law could do wonders for any business you decide to enter or understand. Trademarks are usually a security that is levied on tangible property or a brand, which is often why you will see the trademark symbol after brand logos. Copyright is used to protect works of authorship such as books. There are occasional unusual trademarks that have been issued for works that live on in the grey area of whether they are works of authorship or not, Paris Hilton trademarking her catchphrase, “that’s hot,” taking the cake. Similarly there are cases that belie that typical copyright case, such as a photograph that had a line of puppies in a similar arrangement as another famous image that first created the composition, but for the most part those are exceptions that prove the rule. While copyright law and perhaps even intellectual property law in general has room for interpretation, for the most part trademarks and copyrights are different branches on the same tree, a tree whose shade is the protection given to inventors from being robbed of the fruits of their labor.
What is OpenSource: is it as sexy as it sounds?
The building blocks of how to get a book published does not reek of pheromones I’m sure, even to the most avid bibliophile, while a hot manuscript gets the juices going, I’m sure the copyright process whilst essential probably doesn’t get the heart pumping like its 1980s, the setting is Studio 54 and the artist formerly known as Prince’s music is on the background. However, there is something rather radical and in that same breath radically titillating about open source; in theory. The practicalities of a model that doesn’t value copyright, or doesn’t really believe in the philosophical merit of protecting intellectual property are extremely arduous though. OpenSource is not the savior of the free world, free thinking is fantastic in theory, I would be the first person to jump on to the free for all train. Who doesn’t love the concept of ideas and innovation proliferating through society without filtration and tax? Well, all four of my fingers are pointing at publishing companies that rely on intellectual property restrictions to make back their money. The idea of open source, which is a term more commonly associated with the software development world; is essentially the free sharing of ideas. It’s a system that allows for innovations to be shared without hesitation and also a full reveal of the backend code or process that was involved in the creation of the final product. The idea is that with free and open exchange of ideas, processes and systems, there is an accelerated and increased rate of innovation because people can improve upon pre-existing work, without the barrier of patents, copyrights, trademarks and the litigation that comes with it. The issue here is that in an already established barter like system that we have today, it becomes very difficult to justify an open source system to a publishing house, even to an individual publisher that isn’t purely altruistic in their motivations. If you are trying to make your money back, then owning your own copyright is the way for anybody besides your first two customers to be incentivized to buy your book. If you are writing something that you believe will be a great boon to this earth and have zero expectations and requirements to make back the money and time you put into creating it, then you should consider making your book totally open source. While that’s uncommon, I’m not discounting the possibility that one of you out there is just martyristic to do it, although, if you’re like me and want to pay your bills with the words you put on a page, or even want to be the next Haruki Murakami, and adopt a lifestyle centered around mastering the craft of writing, with little time for anything else, then the odds are you are going to need to protect your work, so that every time a copy flies off a shelf, some dollars fall into your wallet.
I’d Like To Copy Those Rights, Too,
Book copyright, movie copyright, song copyrights, all forms of copyright are protected for a significant amount of time in the United States. Investing a small amount of time today in something like how to get a book published, pays dividends over a much longer time frame. In the United States, the period protected by copyright is: the life of the creator plus 70 years, or in the case of works made “for hire” or by creators who are not identified, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter. Enough time to make sure that you’ve been adequately reimbursed for your hard work. The steps themselves to get from no copyright to copyrighting your book are also fairly simple. All in all, the effort, money and time required to copyright a book, pales in comparison to the efforts that it demands to create a book worth copyrighting. And, should you endeavor to become a serial writer, or to be a multi-bookselling author and perhaps launch your own publishing company with the help of your copyrights, then there really isn’t much that stands in your way. Global copyright law was formalised by the World Trade Organization several years ago, however, some countries do continue to have different standards of practice when it comes to intellectual property, the United States for mostly better than worse; makes the entire undertaking pretty straightforward, simple and long lasting. Once again giving an individual the support to make the most of the opportunity that presents itself to you. Given the longevity and ease of process of the Copyright system; the only thing left to be done is to write a book worth protecting, for all that time.