Five-minute guide to copyright for desktop publishers

Most people think that copyright is the province of lawyers, big publishers with legal departments, and plagiarism trackers.

But every independent publisher should have a little information about copyright and how the law works in the United States. Okay, I promised this would take 5 minutes, so let’s get started.

Basic Copyright Information You Should Know

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection. It is based on the Constitution of the United States and, by law, grants protection to original works fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

You do not have to apply for copyright to any authority. The United States government does not issue copyrights. Copyright law provides protection against others who may claim your work as their own or attempt to make a profit from your work without your permission.

When you create something original and arrange it in a way that others can experiment with (for example, by writing a story that others can read or painting a picture that others can see) your work is protected by copyright from the moment it is created. .

Copyright protects original works of all kinds, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, films, songs, computer software, and architecture. It will protect a greeting card you wrote and the song you created for a school play.

Not everything can be protected by copyright

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems or methods of operation. However, you will protect an operation book or manual that explains these ideas, systems, or methods.

As publishers, it is important to know that you cannot have copyright in the title of your book. If a title can be considered a trademark, you can use the trademark system to try to protect your title, but it will be an expensive, lengthy and uncertain process, and you may be denied trademark protection.

Some questions about copyright

How are copyrights different from patents or trademarks? Copyright protects original works of authorship. The patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by copyright law, although the way they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify goods or services. The Fedex logo is a registered trademark that provides protection. It is not copyrighted.

What is copyright registration? There is no requirement to register your copyright, which exists from the moment the work is created. Registration is a service provided by the Library of Congress as a means of registering copyright claims. If you ever have a dispute over your copyrighted work, your best evidence will be the registration you made and the date it was entered, to show that you are the creator of the work.

You definitely want to register your copyright, even if it’s not necessary.

  • The copyright registry will put the facts of your copyright in the public record.
  • You will receive a registration certificate
  • In the event of litigation, your registered work may be eligible for legal damages and attorney’s fees.
  • If you register your copyright within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence (evident from the record) in a court of law

Can’t you just submit your manuscript to yourself? This practice has been used for many years as a kind of “poor man’s copyright.” Unfortunately, there is no provision in copyright law for such protection — it is not a substitute for registration.

Are my copyrights valid outside the United States?
The United States has copyright relationships with most countries in the world, and as a result of these agreements, we respect the copyrights of each other’s citizens. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with all countries. For a list of countries and the nature of their copyright relationships with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Well, there you have it. Considering the amount of time, effort, and imagination you’ve put into your book, it makes sense to take the simple step of registering your copyright. Like putting a category on the back cover of your book, or getting your ISBN correct, this is another detail that self-publishers need to pay attention to.

In an upcoming post, we will discuss the thorny issue of fair use. In the meantime, if you have questions about copyright, it is best to consult a lawyer, and I am not a lawyer. For more detailed information on copyright, visit the US Copyright Office website.