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The Five W’s of Copyright

The Five W’s of Copyright

Sep 22, 2014

Jessica Parker
Senior Publishing Consultant 

One of the most important things authors must consider when publishing their work is the copyright. I often speak with authors who have little to no knowledge of how to approach the copyright for their books. Most tend to think that copyright is just a simple registration, but when it comes to filing time, they feel lost and unsure of what to do. Therefore, I have broken down the five W’s of Copyright which will help you to understand what you need, when you need it, and who can help you.

Who can file your copyright?

There are several people who can file your copyright other than yourself. You can have a copyright lawyer do it for you, an agent such as your publisher, or another third-party entity that is acting on your behalf (for example, LegalZoom).

What can you can file, and what will you need to file?

You may copyright any original work of authorship. This includes manuscripts/books, graphics, pictures, illustrations, infographics, audiobooks, eBooks, and much more.

Important items that aren’t eligible for copyright are titles, names, slogans, recipes, ideas, procedures, etc. If you have a cookbook, you can copyright the format in which you organized them, but the actual recipes themselves are not covered.

For a detailed list of what items are and aren’t covered under copyright, check out this great circular from the copyright office:

Before filing—or, for that matter, publishing—you will need an electronic copy of your manuscript or two copies of the published work. You also need any permissions forms, transfer of rights, or work-for-hire documents. It’s shocking how many authors aren’t aware that they need these items prior to filing or even publishing!

If there is anything within your work that you didn’t create yourself (photos, illustrations, graphics, references, etc.), you will need to have the appropriate documents stating that you have permission to use these items and/or file copyright for them. For example, if you have a children’s book and had someone else complete the illustrations, you cannot legally file copyright for those illustrations unless the artist has signed over the rights of the illustrations to you.

When should you file your copyright?

It is usually recommended that you file your copyright one month after the book is published. This will ensure that all changes, additions, etc. done to the manuscript throughout the publishing process are included in your copyright. Filing post-publication also provides the copyright office with two copies of your final book to have on file.

You can file pre-publication, which will give you the option to electronically upload your manuscript, but you may have to amend your copyright later for additional costs ($100 for amendment…ouch!) if you want to include any additional items added throughout the publishing process.

Where does your copyright statement go?

Although it is no longer required to place the copyright statement (i.e., Copyright © 2014 Jessica Parker) on your book, it is recommended that you do. This will protect you from the “innocent infringement” defense that the infringing party was unaware your work was copyrighted material.

The Chicago Manual Style, which is the style guide publishers follow, suggests that you place this statement along with the all rights reserved paragraph on your copyright page that immediately follows your full title page.

Why should you file your work with the copyright office?

Most people are not aware that it is no longer a requirement for you to file with the copyright office for protection of your work, as it is protected under US Copyright law the moment you save it as a file on your computer, write it down, etc. However, there are some advantages to doing so. Filing with the copyright office makes it a public record that your work is protected. It also provides the public with information on whom to contact in regards to obtaining rights and permissions to use your work. You will also receive added benefits such as lawyer’s fees in the case of a lawsuit.

How much is it to file?

If you decide to have a copyright lawyer assist you, you can expect to pay anywhere from $350 to $1,000. Using a copyright lawyer will cover the application, mailing of books, and usually getting together any legal documents that you may need.

Publishing companies usually offer copyright filing services as an added convenience to their authors. I’ve seen these costs range from $100 to $500, depending on the company that you use.


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