Why Do Authors Need a Copyright?

One day, while I was surfing Facebook (eye roll) my friend, Teagan, from Teagan’s Books, said something about getting a copyright. That got me to thinking… I am going to self-publish my novel soon. Do I need to get a copyright?

If you are like me, I know next to nothing about copyright law. I do have a basic understanding of the concept and realize it is something that does protect us, authors. So, I decided to investigate the issue of copyrights. After all, I do want to protect my writing. I really want to know how necessary this step really is.

By the way, I have tried to only present information that is from reputable websites. If you are considering a copyright always consult a lawyer who can advise you on your rights.

Here is what I found out from writerswrite.com (Please click on the link to read the article in its entirety):

“What Copyright Law Covers

Copyrights protect literary works such as short fiction, short stories, novels, nonfiction articles, poetry, newspaper articles, newspapers, magazine magazines, computer software, software manuals, text advertisements, manuals, catalogs, brochures, and compilations of information, such as databases. Other categories of protected works include dramatic works, motion pictures, other audiovisual works, and sound recordings.

Copyright law does not protect ideas, facts, inventions, processes, systems of operations, words, names, symbols or proprietary information, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Inventions and processes are protected under patent law. Words, names, and symbols used to identify good and services are protected by trademark law. Proprietary information (information secret to a business such as customer lists) is protected by trade secret law.”

“How Do You Get Copyright Protection for Your Work? 

The original author of a work owns the copyright to that work unless he or she has assigned those rights to a third party. Copyright protection arises automatically, without any action taken by the author, the moment the work is fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

For a short-story writer, the work becomes fixed as soon as the author dictates the story, writes it down or types it into the computer. The work must be “original”, e.g., not based upon someone else’s work. The fact that the short story may be similar to many other stories does not mean it is not “original” for copyright purposes, so long as the author did not copy the story from another source.”

So, if the moment we type up that story or novel and it is considered automatically protected under copyright laws, why do we need to register a copyright? The answer is simple. Litigation…


writerswrite.com
also
explains why you would register a copyright. (Please click on the link to read the article in its entirety):

“Registering a Copyright 

Given the fact that an author owns the copyright in his or her work the moment the work is fixed in a tangible form without a formal copyright notice, why bother to formally register the copyright in a work with the U.S. Copyright Office? There are several reasons to register:

  • To sue someone for copyright infringement the owner of the work must first register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. You may register the work after someone has infringed upon the work, but the registration will only apply to infringements that occur after the registration. However, if you register your work within 90 days of publication, the statutory damages provisions apply to infringements before and after the actual registration.
  • Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages up to $100,000 and attorney’s fees in successful litigation.
  • If the registration is made within five years from the creation of the work, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

Registration is inexpensive ($20 per work registered) and relatively simple. To register the author simply fills out the copyright application and mails it to the U.S. Copyright office with a check and a nonreturnable copy of the work (one copy if the work is unpublished and two copies if it has been published). Works that have been published must be registered within three months of the publication. This is called “mandatory deposit”.”

Public domain is another interesting facet of copyright law. writerswrite.com
explains what public domain is. (Please click on the link to read the article in its entirety):

“Public domain refers to works which are no longer covered by copyright law. For example, the recent rash of movies adapting Jane Austen’s novels may have something to do with the fact that no one holds the copyright to these works; they are in the public domain and no license fees have to be paid to the author or her heirs. Facts which are common knowledge such as the form of calendars are also considered to be public domain and may be copied and reproduced at will.”

For me, the basic concept of copyright is to prohibit anyone from copying or distributing your written works. It is not a mandatory requirement to get copyright protection. However, in the United States, it is mandatory if you need to sue someone for copyright infringement.

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America state on their website: (Please click the link to read the article in its entirety)

“For published book-length manuscripts, registration is essential. Trade publishers typically register copyright in the author’s name at their own expense.  Small presses often don’t want to incur the cost, and may leave registration up to you. If you’re self-published, registration will also be up to you (some self-publishing platforms offer copyright registration as an add-on service, but they’ll charge you more than you’d pay if you registered yourself).”

“For published short stories and articles, registration is wise. There’s some legal precedent to suggest that publishers’ collective copyrights (which protect compilations of writings, such as anthologies, magazines, or newspapers) may not protect individual articles or stories. Both the National Writers Union and the Authors Guild recommend that writers register their published articles and stories if they publish in a country where an official registration process exists. You can register within three months of first publication and still be entitled to the full range of damages noted above, as long as registration precedes infringement.”

What if you don’t register, and discover that your published work has been stolen? As long as you register within five years of initial publication, you can still sue although the range of damages you can claim is limited.”

Teagan shared that you can set up your free account here https://eco.copyright.gov/eService_enu/start.swe?SWECmd=Start&SWEHo=eco.copyright.gov.

Teagan also says when filling out the online registration form:

“* The site walks you through the process, but what you need might not be on the part of the page that you expect — again the patience. Read the whole page before you “jump.”
* On the left sidebar, you can navigate if you need to back up and change or check something.
* They do have email help desk, which usually responds after about a business day.
* It has taken about 3 months to get the certificate each time I’ve applied.
* Again (for me) the key points: Be patient & pay attention. Remember their “language” is totally their own, likely not yours. So if you get confused, look closely at their wording.”

NOTE: The government site says it costs $140.00 to register your book for copyright. Not $20 as stated in the information above.


I would like to hear what you “already published authors” have done. Do you have a copyright for each of your published works? Would you advise that this is a necessary step in the self-publishing process? Please reply in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your advice!

55 thoughts on “Why Do Authors Need a Copyright?

  1. “Registration is inexpensive ($20 per work registered) and relatively simple. To register the author simply fills out the copyright application and mails it to the U.S. Copyright office with a check and a nonreturnable copy of the work . . .”
    It’s now $35.00 and everything is done online. It takes about half an hour if you are an idiot like me. Fifteen minutes if you know what you’re doing.
    So I say, for a lousy $35.00 . . . just do it. Who knows? Your work may be stolen and that’s cool. When the thief makes those millions with your work, you can march into court holding your copyright and take it all away from him or her.
    Here’s the link: https://eco.copyright.gov/eService_enu/start.swe?SWECmd=Start&SWEHo=eco.copyright.gov

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This may be one of the most useful posts I’ve read thus far. Extremely useful and often taken for granted or overlooked. Protect your work, everyone!

    Thank you for sharing Colleen. I am bookmarking this for future reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Colleen, thanks for the excellent information. I don’t pay to copyright my work. I do add copyright all over my work. And I think if someone wanted to steal my artwork or writing, they would regardless if I paid $140 to copyright it. As you mentioned, as soon as I create the work it is copyrighted. Nice to connect with you today as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I did obtain a copyright for all of my works. The government takes very long now as they were back logged and moving things around. I also used a service to assist me. This went so smooth n they helped when there was an issue. It’s that law service which is online. They do LLC’s, divorce, copyright, etc. Legal Zoom is the company.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, as always, for your thorough, forthright, yet straight forward information. I copyrighted STASHES, but don’t think I will when I publish its sequel HASHES & BASHES soon.

    Looking forward to your novel, Coleen!

    Liked by 1 person

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