For every JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, there are hundreds of aspiring authors trying to write their book and get it published. If you are one of the lucky ones who has managed to finish your book and you are getting ready to send it out, whether it is through publishers or self-publishing, you need to start looking into protecting your hard work from people who will take advantage of you. The best way to protect your book is to get it copyrighted before you distribute any copies.
What Is a Copyright?
A copyright is the legal right to print, publish, perform, film, or record any material. According to Trask Britt, your copyright extends not just to the original work, but also all copies and subsequent editions that you produce. This coverage is pretty thorough, and it is meant to protect all of your work from copycats.
Luckily, once you create the material, it is copyrighted. Even if your work is not officially published, it falls under copyright protection as soon as it is created. That means that even your original drafts are safe, provided you haven’t deleted or burned them. You hold the copyright for your work unless you decide to sign it over or you relinquish the protection is some way. This works similarly in a group of authors, except you all hold the joint copyright. Your copyright will last for your lifetime plus an additional period set by your country’s laws. The United States extends the copyright for 70 years after the death of the creator. After this point, your work will become part of the public domain, or it could have the copyright renewed by a member of your estate.
Keeping Track of Your Novel
Once your book is officially published, it is fairly safe, especially if you work with a publisher or big distributor. The bigger your audience, the less likely someone will be able to steal your work. But even then, some people try. The best thing that you can do is to be aware of where your novel has gone. One of the biggest violations of copyright comes from the Advanced Reader Copies (ARC) that you may send out to get reviews before the book is published. ARCs are sent out to generate buzz and help you find any last-minute mistakes. While ARCs are copyright protected, it can be fairly easy for someone to distribute your work without your permission. To avoid this, you can either have your publishing company handle the ARCs, as they should have trusted people to work with, or you should only send it to people you know.
Registering Your Novel
For additional protection, you should consider registering your novel online through the US Copyright Office. While not required, it does establish a public record of your ownership of the copyright, which is incredibly important, especially if you write under a pen name. It also gives you the grounds to pursue legal action if someone does try to steal your work or violate your copyright. To register your copyright, you will need to fill out an application, send the Copyright Office a copy of your work, and pay a small fee.
Everyone has heard crazy stories about an author suing another author over copyright infringement, so here are a few things that copyrights don’t cover, so you don’t get caught up in a mess. They don’t cover titles, pen names, or tropes. You can’t copyright the Hero’s Journey, no matter how much money you can make. But your characters, your storyline, and any creations, such as locations or things particular to your story can be copyrighted. Usually just having a copyright notice will be enough to protect you, but in some cases, you may need to take the case to court. Don’t be afraid to protect your work, but don’t go so overboard that you end up as one of those crazy stories.