How to Copyright a Book and Protect Your Work from Plagiarism
In this article, you’ll learn how to copyright a book with the U.S. Copyright Office. As the writer of an original work of nonfiction, you want to make sure that the authorship of your intellectual property is well protected.
Copyright registration will allow you to have a solid avenue to go after infringers in a court of law. For the relatively low cost of registration this is really a no-brainer for authors.
(Disclosure: I’m not an attorney, so I recommended that you consult with one in matters related to copyright as well as disclaimers that may be legally required to appear in your nonfiction book, depending on your subject matter).
What Protections Does Copyright Afford Nonfiction Books?
Your nonfiction book, in particular if you’re writing a book that documents your expertise and offers unique solutions to a target audience, will incorporate many of your ideas, methods, procedures, concepts and so on.
While these aren’t protected by copyright themselves (this kind of intellectual property may require a patent), your explanation, illustration and description of them is subject to copyright.
As a simple example, if you’re copyrighting a cookbook, your lists of ingredients are not subject to copyright protection, however the text containing your preparation and cooking instructions is.
The same applies to any research based on information that you’ve collected. The information itself is not copyrightable, but your sorting methodology, your analysis and your conclusions are.
Keep in mind that if your book contains any type of branding information or names that you’ve coined as part of your solution (e.g. “The 35-Minute Workout,” or “The Anxiety-Free Smoke Cessation Technique”), those are not copyrightable either. In this case, the vehicle to protect them is a trademark.
What Specific Rights Do I Gain by Copyrighting My Book?
By copyrighting your book, you’ll be granted the following rights:
- Exclusive right for making copies of your book. Now, you may grant third parties permission to reproduce your work in part of in whole for a limited time and/or a limited quantity in exchange for compensation.
- Exclusive right to distribute your book. Here too you may grant third parties permission to distribute your work on your behalf through a mutually beneficial financial arrangement.
- Exclusive right to create derivative works from your book, such as workbooks, abridged audio versions, etc. Since derivative works also include translations, you may grant others permission to translate your book to a foreign language and to distribute it in that market through a mutually beneficial financial arrangement.
Do I Need to Register My Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office?
Technically, you’re not required to register your copyright with the government agency to be protected since, as the book’s author, you own the copyright to your work the moment it’s written.
However, if someone else claims to have written a book extremely similar to yours at the same time and you want to sue for infringement, you would have to prove that they read your book before writing theirs – this is extremely difficult to do.
A much safer approach is to register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office. Even though it costs some money ($35 for online registrations for a single original title and $85 for paper registrations), it’s money well spent.
With a registered copyright, you can assert your copyright starting from the official date of registration, which allows you file a claim for infringement without having to prove others’ prior knowledge of your work. Also, your registration becomes part of the public record.
What are the Criteria for Copyrighting a Nonfiction Book?
In order to copyright your nonfiction book:
- You must be the author of an original work.
- The original work must be contained in a tangible medium of expression.
Note: Copyright protection in the U.S. covers the life of the author plus 70 years but there are some exceptions for works made for hire, so you may want to consult with the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov for full details).
What Messaging Do I Need in My Book’s Copyright Page?
In addition to your copyright registration, you need to include a well-written copyright page in the front matter of your book.
In this page, you’ll want to include your copyright notice, your publisher’s name and address (this could be your business’s address or a P.O. Box if self-published), the book’s edition, date of publication and print run, a statement of rights, cataloguing in publication data, any permissions from other copyright holders, and a number of disclaimers.
Copyright Page with Standard Disclaimer
A standard copyright page may look like this:
Copyright © 2019 by Jane Doe
Published by XYZ, 1234 ABC Ave. P.O. Box 555, City, State, Zip Code
First Edition, 2019
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, or through any information browsing, storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
<Cataloguing data goes here>
Permissions (if any) go here
Copyright Page with Additional Disclaimers
If your nonfiction book provides health, financial, fitness or other type of advice that may contain forward looking information or that may result in a negative outcome for the reader if not followed properly, you’ll need to add separate disclaimers.
The nature of these disclaimers goes beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say, if you provide investment advice you may want to check with your attorney to see if there are any SEC disclaimer requirements that may be applicable to the information in your book.
The same goes for health, fitness, moneymaking and other type of advice that is directed at consumers. Check with your attorney to see if there are any FTC requirements you’ll need to comply with.
As a reference, here are some basic disclaimers for nonfiction books that provide advice:
“Although this publication is designed to provide accurate information in regard to the subject matter covered, the publisher and the author assume no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any other inconsistencies herein. This publication is meant as a source of valuable information for the reader, however it is not meant as a replacement for direct expert assistance. If such level of assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.”
If you show case studies you might want to include the following statement:
“Unless otherwise indicated, all the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
How Do I Register My Book with the U.S. Copyright Office?
The easiest and most-cost-effective way to register your copyright is to do it online by visiting: www.copyright.gov.
Once there, click on Literary Works and after the page loads click on Register a Literary Work.
Then select New User and create an account. Once your account is set up, click on Copyright Registration, then click on Register A New Claim and finally click on Start Registration and complete the required fields.
Finally, pay the copyright fee and either upload or mail in your work, depending on the on-screen instructions.
You’ve worked really hard on your nonfiction book, and you want to make sure that your authorship is copyright protected. But you also want to make sure that you’re personally protected as well.
Before you publish your book, enlist the help of your attorney to help you craft the right disclaimers for your copyright page, since there may be consumer legislation that applies to your subject matter.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of self-publishing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related posts I highly recommend:
How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors
How to Grow Your Business Writing a Nonfiction Book
Write Your Own Book and Become an Expert: 11 Reasons Why You Should
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.
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