In Your Corner: Understanding Copyright

I won’t lie:

Copyright is Hard

So: never let the world beat you down into thinking poorly of yourself for not fully understanding every detail of copyright law. We’ll summarize some of the “greatest hits” of copyright for self-publishing authors here, including when it is important to register your copyright, and what it might look life if you do not pursue acquiring a copyright on your next book … but there’s a lot more out there than we can cover in one blog post, so we’ll provide some of our favorite resources at the end of the post as well.


The Starter Pack: Basics You Should Know

Copyright was introduced in order to protect intellectual property, and draws directly from the US Constitution, which grants this protection for original works in any tangible medium of self-expression (including books, of course, and art, music, film, et cetera). Copyright covers both unpublished and published works.

Copyright is not something you apply for. It is not something the government issues like tickets at the DMV. Copyright law protects your work from being claimed by others as their own, or from being exploited by others who seek to profit from your work without your explicit permission. Instead, your work is protected under copyright laws from the moment of its creation.

Copyright does not protect everything. It doesn’t cover facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it will protect a textbook or operating manual explaining those things. Make sense? And copyright does not protect the title of your book. You might attempt to trademark a title if it qualifies for that fully separate protection, but that is a lengthy, uncertain, and pricey process. It’s better to know going into publication that your title does not belong to just you. (But then, that can be a freeing thought. You won’t be served papers for accidentally replicating someone else’s title. With so many millions of books in print, that is a good bet.)

Copyright is good in most international cases. As in, there are some countries with whom the United States has not yet worked out mutually beneficial copyright recognition agreements. But the majority of US-allied countries respect US copyright laws.

So What’s This About Registration?

While there’s no requirement to register your copyright—it’s not strictly mandatory, that is, to register—there is a registration service provided by the Library of Congress in order to record claims to copyright. This establishes precedence, and legal standing if someone should ever violate your copyright—it will help you prove that the book in question was first registered by you and you alone. This is one of those “not required but STRONGLY recommended OR ELSE you might lose in a court case” situations. The world is not always a fair place, so we have to protect ourselves whenever we can.

After registration, you will receive a certificate proving your copyright information and placing your copyright record into the public record. In the off chance you face litigation, you will become eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees, among other things. You don’t have to do this right away, although the sooner the better; if you register with the LoC within five years after your initial publication, you are considered covered under prima facie evidence in a court of law.

Don’t rely on the old trick of mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript in order to acquire proof of copyright; this is considered the “poor man’s registration” but it doesn’t always hold up in court.

If You Do Not Register for Copyright …

Your book might be stolen, knowingly or unknowingly.

How unknowingly??

These days, there are hundreds of automated scripts scanning the web and indexing (or storing old copies of) websites and digital content for archival purposes. Many of these scripts are designed with honorable purposes in mind (wanting to preserve uncorrupted copies of websites in case material is taken offline or corrupted somehow) … but some are not. And some operate in a very grey area. You might remember the trouble Google landed in several years ago for making digital copies of recently published books available through the Google Books platform—the intent was to make all published content searchable, but it ended up making all published content purchasable … and through a website which hadn’t purchased the rights to begin with. It was messy. And it remains messy: the US court system ruled in favor of Google and against the Authors Guild.

Many scripts replicate what Google Books has done, but with even fewer safeguards and protections. This means that you have zero standing if you do not register your book with the Library of Congress and find that a website is running a digital copy of your book pulled from the ether by an algorithm without your permission, and literally anyone can now read your book without consent.

And of course there are much nastier cases, where people intentionally steal copyrighted material or otherwise exploit published material for profit. The point is … give yourself a leg to stand on, even if there’s no judge on your doorstep compelling you to do so this afternoon. There might be one in the future, and you want to be well positioned for that.


Some of our favorite copyright resources include:

And as always ….


You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

My Book is Copyright Protected Upon Publication – Why Do I Need to Register a Copyright?

When your book is published, it is automatically protected under copyright law. That means that no one can pass off your words as their own without your explicit permission. However, we still recommend authors register their copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. Why is this necessary, you ask? That’s a great question.

Think of it like a receipt. It serves as a proof that you purchased the merchandise you own. This entitles you to take advantage of the store’s return policy. If you lose your receipt, there are some stores that MAY allow you to exchange your item or get store credit without a receipt, but that is often at the store owner’s discretion. Copyright registration is very similar. When you need to make a claim against anyone for a copyright violation, you can use your copyright certificate to fight for statutory damages in court. Without a confirmed copyright, it is very unlikely that you have a case. You will have to try to settle with the infringer outside of court. Certainly, you can threaten to speak with an attorney, but if the violator is aware that you didn’t register your copyright, that won’t go over too well…

Finally, if you take your career as an author seriously, purchasing your own copyright is an important step in the publishing process. There is certainly a cost involved, but the protection and professionalism that results will most likely prove invaluable.

Ultimately, choosing to register the copyright for your work is a personal and important decision that only you can make. Consider your audience, how important is to protect your work from infringement, and how serious you take your career as an author before making such a decision.

Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.