You’ve written a book you are very proud of and do not want anyone else getting credit for it. Imagine accidentally running into a work with the same premise, which was published after yours. If this work is getting more attention and making money off your original publication, it’s understandable that you will get upset.
What can you do to avoid this situation? Well, protect your intellectual property, of course. So, regardless of whether you are self-publishing or not, here is what you need to know about copyrighting your book.
What is copyright?
The World Intellectual Property Organization defines copyright as a legal term that provides creators with rights over their literary works. It is important to know that copyright protects only expressions of ideas, not ideas themselves. So, if you discuss an idea for a story with someone, they can use that idea to write a book themselves, without acknowledging your ownership. In order to protect it, your idea has to be recorded in some way.
Look into the laws in your country
Once you have your work in material form, you should look into your country’s laws. Most countries respect the terms of the Berne Convention, which means that your book is under copyright protection as soon as you’ve written it. It is also free and does not require any special procedure. As of February 2018, 176 countries follow the principles of the Berne Convention. Those countries, such as Australia, have no system for copyright protection registration. It is important to be wary of various scams in these countries, as there might be some organizations that offer copyright protection for a fee.
On the other hand, some countries have voluntary national registration systems in place. If you decide to register your work, then there will be a public record which shows the world that you are the author. For example, the U.S. is one of those countries. When you decide to apply, you need to contact the U.S. Copyright Office. You can do this online, by creating an account and completing the form required. You have to pay a fee and send in your manuscript. This can take around six months. However, you can also mail in your application, a copy of the book and the fee. Ten to fifteen months is the usual time for processing this type of application. There is no need to worry if these periods seem long, seeing as how the date of registration is the day the Office receives your application. Moreover, compared to other kinds of intellectual property, registering a copyright is fairly inexpensive.
Benefits of copyrighting
Copyright laws protect the author’s economic and moral rights. Moral rights allow the creator to claim authorship as well as to oppose any changes to the work that might harm their reputation. When it comes to economic rights, the owner can authorize or prohibit the use of their work. For example, no copies can be made without their consent. Furthermore, all reproductions and performances, as well as translations and adaptations, have to be approved by the author. The creator possesses the rights to distribution and the creation of derivative works. You should also know that the copyright extends for several decades after your death, depending on your country of origin.
Legal issues you might encounter
We already mentioned that some countries do not have a registration system when it comes to copyrighting; in those countries, a copyright notice is not necessary. However, it can help you prove ownership and establish copyright in some foreign countries. Having a copyright notice (a page with the © symbol, the date of creation and your name) can deter potential infringers. In case you find yourself in a situation similar to the one from the beginning of the article, it’s good to know that you have the option to take legal action. You can contact experts in this field and have them look at your case. They can advise you during IP resolution negotiations and find a way to reach the best outcome for you.
Licensing and assigning copyright of your book
If you decide to work with a publisher instead of self-publishing, you will be licensing them to use your book under the terms agreed in the contract. You can give them certain rights to the book and withhold others. For instance, you can let them print it but prohibit them from making it into an audiobook. Moreover, you can choose which countries it will be published in and whether it will be translated. All of this means that you keep ownership and copyright to the book.
On the other hand, assigning copyright means that you are selling it. This is common in the film industry, however, if someone approaches you about buying the rights to your book, you should seek legal counsel.
As you can see, copyrighting your book is not an arduous process. In most states, you have the copyright as soon as you’ve written it and if you want to ensure extra protection, look into registering it.