Your book is written and in print, hooray! Now you’re done, right? Not so fast. Before you’re off to the races with your marketing and distribution, you want to make sure you protect your work through copyright.
Copyright protects the intellectual rights of both published and unpublished works communicated in any tangible medium of expression (e.g., books, paintings, songs, software programs, etc.) from the moment they are created. It is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and is not dependent on being granted from any authority; it is not necessary to “apply” for a copyright. What you do need to do is register it in order to establish the work as yours and to protect you from others using, appropriating, or profiting from it without your permission. It is not required that you register your copyright; it is completely voluntary. Registration of your copyright is simply a service provided to you by the U.S. Library of Congress. If there were ever a dispute about your rights to your intellectual property, your copyright registration would be on the public record, and proof that you are the creator of that work.
Note that you cannot copyright the title of your book. What you may be interested in, in that case, is a trademark, which can protect words, phrases, symbols, or logos, or designs. (Trademark registration can be a lengthy and expensive process and requires an attorney.)
How to Register Your Copyright
The U.S. Copyright Office, a branch of the Library of Congress, is physically located in the James Madison Memorial Building in Washington, D.C. However, in this wonderful electronic age in which we live you will access it by their online location at http://www.copyright.gov/. This is the least expensive and easiest way to establish your copyright. To register, you will be required to provide:
a completed copyright application,
a (nonrefundable) filing fee, and
a (nonreturnable) copy or copies of your book, usually electronic
Simply set up your account online to get started, and then follow the prompts to register your book and pay by credit card. Generally speaking, most online filers receive their certificate within nine months or earlier.
It is still possible to register your copyright traditionally (manually), although the Copyright Office is starting to phase out this option, and it is more expensive. You can download a copy of the form on the website, fill it out, and send it in with your payment and a hard copy of your book.
Though perhaps tedious, registering your copyright is not a complicated process and shouldn’t be intimidating. If you fail to complete it, your book will still be copyrighted. However, if you don’t file your forms forms and pay your filing fee, your copyright will not be registered. And it’s the registration that counts if there’s ever a dispute about your intellectual rights to your book.
So, once you’ve finished your book, don’t neglect this important step. You worked so hard to create it; it’s definitely worth the extra step to protect it.