This is often a question that new self-published authors ask. And the quick answer is no. As soon the words leave your mind and you put them on paper (or type them into your computer file), it is already protected under U.S. copyright law.
Now before I go on, let’s cover what copyrights do NOT cover. They do not cover words, names, symbols (though some symbols can be trademarked) and ideas. That last one is something that often confuses people. If you go around talking about an idea for a novel, it isn’t copyrighted and anyone can take that idea and write a story that is 100% theirs. But as soon as you put those words on the page, those words, your story, is yours and copyright protection is extended to you without having to apply or pay for it.
Now some people will tell you that you need to register your work to get copyright protection, but this isn’t true. As of March 1, 1989, you are automatically protected. You can still register with the U.S. Copyright office for a fee. I found a few websites that said you need to have it officially registered to have your copyright hold up in the court of law. This is FALSE.
So what does registering your copyright provide you?
- It gives you a public record of when your book was created.
- Registered works can be eligible for additional statutory damages and/or attorney’s fees if someone violates your copyright, and you take them to court.
- Registration is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law (which roughly means that is considered a fact without needing further evidence.)
If you are interested in registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, here is how to do it.
Note: If you are submitting your work to a traditional publishing house, do not file an official copyright before you submit it. This is something the publishing house will do after they agree to publish your story.
Speaking of copyrights…you should have a copyright page as part of your front matter.
So what goes on your copyright page?
- The © symbol, or the word “Copyright”
- The year of first publication of the work; and
- an identification of the owner of the copyright—by name, abbreviation, or some other way that it’s generally known.
Together, it should look like this:
© 2015 Susan Leigh Noble
Your copyright page will also have your legal notices and any disclaimers you want to include.
Here is what appears on the copyright page of Summoned.
Note: Since I had submitted my first book, Summoned, to several publishing houses before going the self-publishing route, I listed the copyright date to reflect that.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblances to persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
Original Copyright © 1995 by Susan Leigh Noble
First Digital Publication: August 2011
Published by Susan Leigh Noble
Cover design by Donna Casey (www.digitaldonna.com)
Photos used to create the cover were obtained from dreamtime.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system — except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the web — without expressed written permission from Susan Leigh Noble.
So basically it is up to you to decide if you want to officially register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. I have not done so with any of my books – and that was with the advice from my husband who is an attorney.