Do indie authors need to register their copyrights?

MichelleOn Writing2 Comments

As an indie author, you’ve invested hundreds of hours into your current WIP, mapping out your plot, interviewing characters, and keyboard-dancing with your muse to make it all sound good on paper. 😊 Maybe you’ve also hired a book editor, or you’re planning to, as well as a team of other pros: formatter, cover designer, PR firm, personal assistant… Indies really are their own little publishing companies. It’s time to think like one!

Publishers place copyright protection at the top of their priorities list, not the bottom, yet for too many indie authors, this detail is treated as an afterthought, and sometimes, ignored altogether. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

Do I really need a copyright?

Yes and no. In the United States, intellectual property laws grant all creators ownership of their original works by default, and this “ownership” is established the moment the artist creates their work. When you send your manuscript to an editor, your copyright exists already—and you do own it—whether or not you’ve registered for a copyright.

Violation of this copyright is illegal. However, if you ever need to initiate a copyright infringement case in the United States, your work must be registered with the US Copyright Office. I know, this can be a little confusing, and since registering your copyright is voluntary—you can still claim “All Rights Reserved” or use the © symbol to deter plagiarists and other thieves—some authors are tempted not to register a copyright.

When should I register a copyright?

Authors can register a copyright before sharing their work with another soul, including your editor or writing coach. That said, if structural edits are to be made—such as adding or deleting whole chapters, renaming characters or introducing new ones, major changes like these—then you’ll need to file a new claim.

I send a “Work for Hire” agreement to each client I work with, which explicitly states the manuscript is yours no matter how much I suggest revising it, or for any “new” writing I may contribute. It’s yours, not just as a professional courtesy, but a legal one. This protects your work from an individual—in this case, me 😉—in the event it hasn’t been officially registered.

Most authors register for a copyright after the heaviest of editing is complete, but before the book is published. (This is also how I do it.) Minor revisions—including those made by copyediting, proofreading, and formatting—are not enough to require you to file a new claim. Down the road, you may want to add more information to the front or “back matter” of your book, like the titles of other books you’ve authored since then, perhaps changes to your social media links, your new blog, newsletter signup form, even your “about the author” page or a cover refresh. You don’t need to register for a new copyright to make these changes. They are protected.

How do I register a copyright?

Easy-peasy! Navigate to eco.copyright.gov/eService.

In the “User Login” box, select “If you are a new user, click here to register.”

And then follow the prompts. 😊

What can I expect after registering my copyright?

You’ll be notified if there are any problems with your registration claim. I did run into issues with one of mine, and was contacted by email. Correspondence with the US Copyright rep was quick and friendly. It can take about three months for electronic claims to process, and typically 10 months for mail-in claims. Click here to view current processing times and other registration FAQs. You’ll receive your Certificate of Registration by mail, and it will be dated with the date you filed. (Not the date processing was complete.)

Other Copyright FAQs

How much does it cost? As of this writing, it costs $55.00 to register one title with the US Copyright Office.

Do I need to send a physical copy? If your book has been published in physical form (paperback and/or hardcover), you’ll need to mail them a physical copy. This is a good incentive to register your work before you publish the paperback or hardcover copy. 😉

What if something changes? Do I need to register a new copyright? As stated above, it depends on the significance of changes made. A new cover? No problem. A revised work with a new cover and a new title? Yes, you’ll want to register a new copyright for that.

If you have more questions on all things copyright…I am probably not the gal to ask. 😅 But I will gladly point you in the right direction. Just email me: michelle@fictionedit.com.

Happy Writing!

Xo-

Michelle

2 Comments on “Do indie authors need to register their copyrights?”

  1. I like that you present both sides to the issue. Speaking from experience, I’m firmly in the “no, it’s not needed” opinion. After going through some frustrating and neverending copyright issues, I’ve found that the cost of suing someone for infringement is so utterly expensive (40K retainer–yes, $40,000 just to start the process) that the $55 is money not well spent and pretty much a joke of “protection.” It’s not protecting anything. It’s not insurance. It’s not a way to prove anyone did anything wrong–that’s what lawyers do.
    Sure, it might make a writer feel a little more secure, but is that writer willing to spend $40K to recoup whatever they can prove (note prove–hard core evidence that again, lawyers have to collect. Cha-ching!) that the other person earned on that piece of literature? I don’t know of many authors who earn 40K on one single story–there are some granted, but not many. Personally, I think, write the next story and let the spirits work it out in the end. Karma’s a b*tch.

    1. This is why I love you, Jules! Very insightful and well-written, compelling response. I so appreciate you turning over the rock and shedding light on another perspective. 🙂

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