Posted on August 7, 2019 at 11:16 AM by Guest Author

Understanding copyrights is an important part of the business of writing. Discover 5 key facts you should know as a new writer, along with other helpful information. 

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Why Understanding Copyrights Is Important

Understanding copyrights is crucial for any writer, but it can prove difficult for those who have only recently embarked on this career path. 

If you’ve decided you’re finally going to write that book you’ve been talking about for years (or if you’ve just finished it), it’s important that you educate yourself on the legal side of things — to protect your work and your legacy. 

Otherwise, you could wind up losing ownership of the text you’ve worked so hard to create. 

The simple fact is that intellectual property is a valuable commodity, and it’s not uncommon for big companies to take advantage of writers who are unfamiliar with copyright law.

Nowadays, writers have to tread carefully or else risk unknowingly signing away their rights. 

And this doesn’t just apply to authors who go the traditional publishing route. Understanding copyrights should be a priority for indie authors, too.

This isn’t meant to scare you or make you feel as though you shouldn’t release your passion project out into the world.

Instead, it’s meant to encourage you to learn as much about the ins and outs of copyright as you can. 

That’s why we’ve provided a few helpful tips for new authors, along with some additional ways to educate yourself and protect your work. 

5 Important Copyright Facts for New Authors

Though understanding copyrights can be a challenge (especially if this is your first time delving into the subject), the five facts below should give you a good introduction. 

For seasoned writers, it never hurts to get a refresher on copyrights either… 

1) The Meaning of Copyright

First things first, it’s worth addressing exactly what a copyright is.

The United States Copyright Office defines copyright as “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

Simply put, your book is your intellectual property. Copyright is what gives you ownership of that property. 

As the copyright owner, you have exclusive rights to either prevent or allow others to…

  • Distribute or sell your work

  • Adapt your work 

  • Reproduce your work

  • Display your work publicly

Holding the copyright also means that you can license certain underlying rights, such as giving another entity the ability to publish your work in a different language or a particular format.  

2) When Copyright Protection Begins and Ends

A copyright is placed on your work the moment it comes into existence — more specifically, when your story becomes a full-fledged book you can hold in your hands or read on a screen. 

Although publication isn’t required for copyright purposes, the year your work was published should be included on the copyright page, as it will determine how long the copyright will last.

As for understanding copyrights in terms of duration, the general rule is that a copyright will remain in effect for the life of the author plus seventy years. If you choose to register your work, you will not have to renew your copyright.  

3) What Is Covered under a Copyright

This is one aspect of understanding copyrights that many new writers struggle with…

Copyright protection extends to the way you express your ideas and the words you use. It does not cover the actual ideas themselves or any facts you incorporate. 

In addition, copyright does not apply to the following:

  • Titles

  • Names

  • Slogans

  • Systems

  • Methods of operation

  • Discoveries

  • Concepts

4) How to Copyright a Book

As mentioned previously, every original work is copyrighted automatically.

However, many authors choose to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office for extra security, as doing so establishes a public record of the claim. 

Without formal registration, it can be difficult to take legal action if someone violates your copyright.

To copyright a book, you’ll need to…

  • Go to the U.S. Copyright Office’s Registration Portal.

  • Select “Literary Works.”

  • Select the option to “Register a Literary Work.”

  • Fill out your information.

  • Pay the copyright fee.

  • Submit a copy of your manuscript electronically or via regular mail.

Note that it can take anywhere from one to seven months to receive your certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office.  

5) How to Address Copyright Infringement

If you’ve registered your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s easier to prove that copyright infringement has occurred, but it’s still by no means easy

In order to do so, you’ll need to produce your copyright certificate, show that the other party had access to the original work, and demonstrate that the party’s work is substantially similar to your own. 

Oftentimes the issue of fair use comes into play, which allows individuals to quote brief excerpts of copyrighted material — as long as it’s done for noncommercial or educational purposes — without permission from or payment to the copyright owner. 

How to Educate Yourself & Keep Your Work Safe

Understanding copyrights is an important part of the business of writing, which is why you should take every opportunity to educate yourself on the topic. 

Below are some recommendations for how to stay informed and keep your work safe. 

  • Stay up to date on the latest copyright filings. 

  • Review all materials from the U.S. Copyright Office.

  • Consult a copyright expert when you’ve finished a new book.

  • Review all contracts carefully.

  • Make sure to set up your estate properly. 

It’s in your best interest to do as much research as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask other authors for advice. 


Understanding copyrights can mean the difference between enjoying the success of your work and seeing it slip through your fingers.

If you’re a new writer (or even an experienced one), come back to this blog for a refresher and check out the resources we’ve provided for additional information on how to ensure your work is protected and to avoid violating someone else’s copyright. 

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Categories: Behind the scenes

Thanks for the good article. Can the author answer questions? 1. Do edited versions of previously copyrighted books (registered) need new copyrights? Cost and/or link? 2. Do audio books need a separate copyright from the digital or printed book? Thank you!
Nancy G. West | 8/16/19 at 4:07 PM
Thanks for the tips. I add copyright information to the front matter of my books but have not registered them,
Cat Michaels | 8/16/19 at 12:09 PM
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