Imagine this: You’re scrolling the internet one afternoon and you read something that resonates with you. Those words seem so . . . familiar. When you reread the paragraph, you realize you have heard those words before. In fact, they’re your words. You’ve been plagiarized.
Before we dive into specifics, a quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so this post does not constitute legal advice. I don’t pretend to know everything about copyright law. I do, however, know some basics that every book author should know.
Do I Need to Register Copyright?
In the United States, copyright is automatic as soon as your work is in fixed form. So whereas you can’t copyright an idea, as soon as you write it down, whether that’s on a cocktail napkin at a BBQ or in a blank document on your laptop, that’s considered fixed form and copyright protection applies.
You might be wondering: Isn’t that enough?
Even with automatic protection, I (and most publishing professionals) recommend registering copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Why Register Copyright?
The main reason to register copyright for your book is simple (and it’s not the cool certificate the U.S. Copyright Office sends to you): Without doing so, you can’t take legal action against someone who plagiarizes you. Sure, you can send them a “cease and desist” letter, but you can’t sue them for copyright infringement. Isn’t that worth $35?
What’s the Process?
Registration is pretty simple. Go to www.copyright.gov, fill out the application, pay the fee, and send a copy of the work. Processing time varies (but again, copyright protection is already in effect, so don’t sweat the wait).
What about Permissions?
If and when someone contacts you to quote from your book, it’s up to you whether to allow them to use your words (and, if so, how much to charge them for said use).
If you’ve written a book, did you register copyright? (And if you didn’t, will you now?)