Monday, May 21, 2007


I've gotten a few copyright law questions, and I figured I'd try to answer them all at once. Let me first get the required stuff out of the way...

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this website is not intended as legal advice. The law is constantly changing and can vary from state to state. In addition, one situation can differ from the next. While I have tried to provide as accurate information as possible, I can neither promise nor guarantee this, nor can I assume responsibility for any actions taken based on information contained inside. Therefore, this website cannot replace the advice of a competent and experienced attorney. Receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it an invitation for such a relationship.

Whew! Now on to the questions....

Should I register my book with the copyright office before submitting to agents or publishers?
Registering your book is always the safest and wisest course of action (especially if you're submitting to a packager), and so I would never encourage you not to do so. Still, you should know that copyright in the work automatically vests at the time of creation, and not registration (assuming that your book is an original work of authorship). Also, it's very likely that you'll revise your work significantly between the time of initial writing and its final publication, and you and or your publisher will need to register the revised book as well.

Do I have to put a copyright notice on my book before submitting?
Notice is no longer a requirement, though you can include it if you've registered your work.

Will my publisher register my book with the copyright office?
Most contracts require the publisher to register the book. This isn't enough though - your publisher should actually be required to register the book within three months of publication. Registration within three months allows you to become eligible to receive statutory damages and legal costs and attorneys' fees from a copyright infringer.

Sadly, publishers are now trying to duck out of this requirement by adding language that states that they don't have to register your book "if, prior to the time of publication, U.S. copyright law is amended so that registration is no longer a prerequisite to the recovery of attorneys' fees and statutory damages."

This is short-sighted and you or your agent should try to fight this. It fails to take into account lots of other benefits that come with registration, like providing a public record of your copyright claim or that copyright registration is a prerequisite to bringing a copyright infringement suit. Sure, you can register your copyright later and then sue, but you'll end up paying a lot more to expedite the process since you'll want to immediately obtain an injunction against whoever is infringing your copyright.

I should tell you that despite the overwhelming evidence that this language bites for both author and publisher, so far some publishers have been unwilling to change it.

I've got an awesome title for my book. Is it copyrightable?
Typically not. And it probably isn't that awesome.


Johnny Attero said...

I love the last question. And the answer is perfect. This is easily one of the best blogs for information intermingled with wit.

Enough fawning. After all, I haven't submitted a book yet have I? But seriously, good stuff.

Josephine Damian said...

What about WGAw registration of a manuscript or short story?

I'm told it'll hold up in court (as opposed to poor man's registration), is good for five years, and costs $20 for non-members.

This way, if something gets published and is significantly different from the original MS, the publisher only has to copyright it once.

Josie D.

Jonathan Lyons said...

Why the disclaimer at the beginning? I'm a licensed attorney in New York, and I have to be very careful when I put on my lawyer hat in order to comply with NYSBA rules.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks for laying this out for us.