Copyright and Copywrite in Self-Publishing

Many authors often confuse the terms copyright and copywrite. Both are important elements in quality self-publishing and your publisher should offer both.

Let’s start with copyright – often the source of a deeper misconception. Some may be under the impression that copyright registration is a must prior to submitting their work to a publisher. That is not the case. Protecting your work is a good idea and should be on your radar, but actual registration is not necessary prior to submission.

The Basics: Copyright law provides the creator of a work (manuscript in this case) exclusive rights to control who may copy or create derivatives of that work. When do those exclusive rights take effect? The instant that creative effort is placed in tangible form – the first sentence put on paper. This specific protection was originally drafted under what is commonly known as The Berne Convention (for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works), an international agreement governing copyright law. This agreement has been signed by nearly every major nation including the United States.

So what does official registration with the US Copyright office accomplish? Protection in the event litigation concerning the creative work, or book, arises, the likeliness of which is rare.

Publishers should offer official registration with the US Copyright Office nevertheless. Make sure yours does. It’s a good idea to let them take care of that process through their professional services. Here is how it works: once your book is published your publisher will likely have you submit the required forms to complete the registration process with the Copyright Office on your behalf. Your copyright is registered on the date the Copyright Office receives all the necessary information, regardless of how long it takes them to mail your Copyright Certificate to you. Keep in mind it is taking the Copyright Office roughly 12 MONTHS to mail the certificates and this is a timeframe outside the control of any publisher.

If you have already applied for a copyright don’t wait for that to become official to begin working with your publisher. Remember, your work is already protected, and readers are ready for your book now.

There is a work-around for concerned authors called the “poor man’s copyright”. Simply mail a hardcopy version of your work in a sealed envelope to yourself and keep for your records. The sealed document will contain proof of ownership in a stamped and dated form. This is not a substitute for registration, but provides a measure of temporary protection.

Side note: Titles cannot be copyrighted.

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2 thoughts on “Copyright and Copywrite in Self-Publishing

  1. Hi Karl, I saw quite a few things on the internet saying that poor man’s copyright is not a reliable way of protecting yourself – also there are sites like that seem to offer a digital alternative – what do you think?


    1. Dean

      You’re right, poor man’s copyright is not a substitute for official registration with the US Copyright office. At a glance, it appears that digiprove (and any similar services) are essentially a derivation of the poor man’s copyright where the encryption of a digital document is created – a digital fingerprint. There is value in that service, but again, not a substitute for official registration, which is required in creating a recognized public record. Officially registered works are also eligible for statutory damages among other things, in a court of law. You can check out more details about that on the US Copyright Law website. In essence, the gov has a monopoly on that.


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