To copyright or not to copyright—that is the question! As an indie author, you've slugged your way through countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears to create your current WIP. From world-building to character interviews to perfecting those prose, your manuscript is an impressive investment worthy of being protected like any other asset. Understanding the proper terminology and what it all means is important because, let's face it, indie authors are like little self-made publishing companies.
Let's take a look at a few key questions about U.S. copyright law indie authors should ask before deciding if filing a copyright claim is the way to go!
When is work copyrighted?
In the United States, your work is protected by U.S. copyright law the moment pen hits paper, even if you have not officially registered your work with the U.S. Copyright Department. Violation of this copyright is illegal. So, that means you're all set, right? Well, yes and no.
Why should I register a copyright?
If you ever need to initiate a copyright infringement action in the United States, your work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Simply claiming "All Rights Reserved" or using that cute little © symbol can be an effective deterrent to plagiarists, but if you ever need to take legal action to defend your copyright, you'll need to be officially copyrighted. By doing so it allows you, as a self-published author, to not only have a higher level of security and confidence when it comes to protecting your work but you'll also be officially recognized as the copyright holder in a court of law.
Be warned, there is another side to that stone worth flipping over. The cost of suing an individual for copyright infringement is expensive. And when I say expensive, I mean expensive. A friend of mine once looked into it and found that retaining a lawyer to start the initial process would cost nearly her year's salary. No joke! Not to mention, if someone does infringe your copyright, the "loss of earnings" is difficult to prove and quantify in the courtroom. Needless to say, you may have one heck of a battle on your hands, but ultimately, the choice is up to you to decide which course of action best meets your needs.
When should I copyright my work?
Like most things in life, the answer to this question depends on your comfort level. When I take on a client, I provide a "Work for Hire" agreement, which legally states that the manuscript is yours—and only yours—no matter what type of work I provide. This little but mighty agreement protects your work from me, your hired editor, in the event it is not yet officially registered, which is often the case at the developmental stage of the writing process.
That said, I recommend waiting to register for a copyright until the heaviest of the editing process is complete. If you register your work too soon and major changes occur within your manuscript (such as rewriting whole chapters or adding new characters), you will need to file a new claim. On the flip side, minor revisions found in copyediting, proofreading, and formatting are not significant enough to warrant a new claim. Additionally, changes you decide to make down the road to your front and back matter—author bio, additional book releases, and even a cover refresh—are also protected.
How do I register a copyright?
Setting up a copyright claim is pretty painless. Established by the Library of Congress, copyright.gov is a site that allows you to fill out and submit registration forms online by completing a few simple steps. To get started, choose the "literary works" category and create an account. Once you register a new claim, you will be prompted to complete the registration forms and pay the filing fee. After your payment is confirmed, you will be asked to send in the nicest and shiniest version of your book you have to offer to the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Bottom Line
Theft of intellectual property is rare in the publishing realm, and most professionals in our field will respect your work for the beautiful piece of art it is. But if you're the type that bounces through life better with a little reassurance (like me), there is no harm in copyrighting. Registering a copyright is like purchasing insurance—it gives you peace of mind knowing your hard work is officially recognized as belonging to you, and that feeling alone can go a long way.
Now, get back out there and #CreateYourEpic!