Shires Press - How to file a Copyright

Congratulations, you've written a book! And now it's time to protect yourself with a copyright. But how do you do this? What's it all about? The process is easy since the copyright application can be found online along with complete instructions at the U.S. Copyright Office's official website.

  • Your work is automatically protected from the moment it's written! Yes, it's true. You don't need to file an official copyright to have your work copyrighted. It's automatic once it's put on paper. This has been the law since March 1, 1989. So even an unpublished manuscript has built-in copyright protection! So even if you don't file paperwork to obtain an official copyright, your work is still protected! This is something many people don't realize. But getting your official copyright does give you added protection because there's a paper trail and official record of when your copyright came into existence. And this helps if someone attempts to steal or has stolen your work without your permission!
  • Until you have your official copyright, you can use a (c) or the word "copyright" to signify your work is original and copyrighted. After this goes the year in which it was written and the author's name. i.e. © 20011 Jane Doe. Any copies of your work that are distributed should contain the copyright notice.
  • Make sure your manuscript is in its near-final form. Once you obtain the copyright for your book, it is for the original work for which the copyright certificate was issued. While you may make minor changes to your work, you cannot radically alter the work. If you do, you will need to obtain a new copyright for your book.
  • Go to the U. S. Copyright Office website to begin the process for obtaining the copyright for your book.Download the copyright form (Form CO), its instructions, and FAQ information. The form itself is in PDF format and you will need the latest version of Adobe Reader and complete the form on your computer and follow the online instructions on how to complete it. This form cannot be handwritten, it MUST be completed on your computer. If you would prefer to handwrite your Copyright form, than download Form TX and it contains the instructions on how to complete it. TIP: If your book is a periodical or serial, then you'll need to use Form SE. Make sure you have filled in all required information related to the work being submitted, the author's information, and where the copyright certificate should be mailed. With fiction, including novels and poetry, it's not unusual to have authors using a fictitious name (pseudonym). Or an author who prefers to remain anonymous. When you file your official copyright, you'll need to state the real name of the author(s), but there is a box to check to indicate if this author is "anonymous" or "pseudonymous." It's up to you when you want to complete this official paperwork. For example, you can file it prior to your work being published. In this case, you'll need to send one copy of the unpublished work along with your paperwork. After you've published it, you'll need to refile this form to change it from an unpublished work to a published one. In other words, you'll get a new copyright for the published one. So you'll have to pay for 2 separate copyright filings! One for the unpublished work and the second for the published one. Some people prefer to wait until the book is actually published to file the official copyright. In this case, you'll need to send 2 copies of the book to the copyright office along with your paperwork. And they must be bound copies, not photocopies! Remember, your unpublished work is automatically protected from the moment you put those words down on paper. So it's up to you to decide when you'd like to file for that official copyright.
  • It's important to note that you cannot copyright the book's title! You are copyrighting the information contained within your book. In other words, it's the words you're using and the way you're using them that's being copyrighted. Somebody else can write on the exact same topic and/or use your exact title. But they cannot organize their wording the same way you do. They cannot write paragraph after paragraph that's exactly the same as yours. Their organization of the words must be original and different! So you're protecting how you've written your information down, not the information iteslf. This is important to understand because many people incorrectly believe that one cannot write on their topic. That's untrue! They simply cannot write it the way you did; it has to be rewritten in their own words.


  • Copyright protection is automatic once your words are on paper
  • A copyright is good for the life of the author plus 70 years