7 Steps to Copyright a Book

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

May 16, 2022

When writers come up with an original idea, craft a unique and compelling book, and then publish it, the assumption is that they alone hold the rights to the book. While technically true, works written by an author can be legally copied by other authors who have a similar idea or concept but present it in a different way.

What an author can claim as theirs and theirs alone must be covered by registering the book for a copyright but this process is for the specific book itself, not the concept or general topic. The law protects an author’s works so that another person cannot legally sell that idea as their own, but unfortunately the general concept or topic is not something that can be legally protected. So what is a copyright and how does an author get one?

What Is a Copyright?

Any author’s original work can be protected from another person stealing that work, claiming it as their own, and then selling the work for a profit. The complete legal definition of the law states that it “literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.”

The way it is protected is by registering it as your intellectual property through the copyright book process so that others cannot steal or copy it and then sell it for profit. Legal protection is established for an author’s individual work through this process, but nothing has to be done with it unless someone attempts to steal or profit off of the author’s work.

Do I Need to Legally Protect My Book?

The conservative answer is yes. While you automatically already own the book, characters, and story you have created, gaining legal protection for your original work has a major benefit. If your work has been through the legal process and is registered with the U.S. Office of Copywriting, then you have legal protections that make it possible to prosecute those attempting to sell your book as their own. Having a copy of your book provides irrefutable evidence that the book is your own creative and original work, and it will stand up in a court of law.

Steps to Registering Your Book

Getting your book registered with the U.S. office is not difficult, but you do need to complete every step to ensure your original work has legal protections if the worst-case scenario happens.

1. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) Virtually

Visit the government site found on the US Library of Congress website and open the Registration Portal to begin the registration process.

2. Choose “Literary Work”

To begin the registration process, choose the “Literary Works” option defined as “works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied” by the USCO.

3. Create an Account

Before you start entering information about your literary work, make sure you complete the account creation process found in the log-in boxed area.

4. Determine What Work(s) You Want to Register

For writers, the pathway to registration is based on the number of books or original written works you want to cover in this legal protection through the USCO.

  • For new authors or those who have written a single original book or a single collection of books, the registration process is fairly straightforward and follows the Single Application process.
  • Authors who have written between 1-10 original works and want to register them all at one time with the USCO should follow the Group Application process.

5. Fill Out the Form

The information you will need to use for the form includes:

  • The complete book title
  • If used: volume, number, issue date
  • If published already: publication date, year of completion, location of publication (country), and preregistration number (if used)
  • Author information: name, organization if written through a publishing house, citizenship, pseudonym/anonymous if used
  • Author’s contribution to the book: text, computer program, photographs, or artwork options
  • The person responsible for the management of the copyright
  • The location where the certificate should be mailed

6. Pay the Fee

The next step of the registration process involves paying the associated fee as well as any extra fees you may incur if you selected the “expedited” option to receive the certificate sooner.

7. Submit a Copy of Your Book

Authors no longer have to send paper copies of their books to the USCO. Instead, submit a final draft PDF of your book to complete the registration process. Use the most recent, final copy of your book for the most complete coverage of your work, since this copy will be acting as the “proof” of your original work.


Don’t I already own my writing and therefore not need legal protection?

Yes. But the legal protection allows for you to sue someone for infringement of your intellectual property. This means you can claim up to $150,000 for statutory damages against copyrighted material used by someone else in addition to claiming legal fees incurred in fighting for your book’s wrong usage, regardless of how much money you did (or did not) lose when they stole your intellectual property.

What is Preregistering with the USCO? And who needs to do it?

Authors who think someone might steal the idea before the work is published or authors who have started their work but have not finished it may choose to preregister with the USCO. Filling out a preregistration “holds” the copyrighted information for the literary work until it is complete and provides legal protection for the author at that time. This preregistration does not have lasting legal protection and doesn’t take the place of formal registration. Only authors who think their work may be infringed prior to publication need to preregister with the USCO but anyone can do it.

How long does the legal protection last?

For works written after 1978, it lasts for the life of the named author plus an additional 70 years. Books that are written under a pseudonym or anonymously are given longer additional years.

When will I receive my legal confirmation?

It takes up to 9 months to receive the confirmation and certificate.

Can I sell my book before I receive my certificate?

Yes, you can sell your book before you receive the certificate. Any book can put a “copyrighted by” section on the book since the author automatically owns the intellectual property, the book, and its contents and the characters unless the author has agreed to share or give away ownership. But books that have been registered with the USCO can be noted as legally protected before the official certificate arrives, if self-publishing occurs prior. Books self-published after the certificate arrives can include that information on the book cover, traditionally found next to the ISBN information.

What’s the difference between a copyright and an ISBN?

Copyrighting is the legal protection of original works, while ISBN is a unique number used to identify your book that can be used to sell it through retailers, online or distribute to libraries.

Where does the legal information go on my book?

Books can include this information along with the date of publication and the ISBN number, if used, inside the book on the back of the title page.

How does all of this work with eBooks?

Copyrighting extends to all formats of books, including eBooks.

Getting Started

If you are a new author who is considering self-publishing, copyrighting your original work is always a good idea to plan for when you are getting your book ready for printing. The steps to copyright book material are not difficult and the “insurance” it provides is a small price to pay with a potentially big benefit if someone does commit theft of your creative ideas or tries to profit off of your work.

Authors who are ready to self-publish should work with a reputable publishing company like Publishing Xpress to make their dreams and hard work a reality. Self-publishing companies do not hold any right to your own original work. So make sure that you choose a company that doesn’t request that you relinquish the rights to your writing, because your creative authorship and your original books are yours to protect with copyright for the rest of your life and for years beyond.

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