Today’s Lesson: Copyright 101

Well, in searching for a topic to post about today, it occurs to me that it might not hurt to discuss copyright from a writer’s point of view. Here are a few basic things I’ve learned over the years:

1. You cannot copyright an “idea.” Only the tangible execution of an idea.

2. Titles are not copyrightable. That’s why you’ll find different books by different authors with the same title. Two examples are “Millennium” and “White Light.”

3. Under US law, your work is copyrighted as soon as it is produced in a tangible form. That means, from the moment that it leaves your mind and is typed, keyboarded, spoken, filmed, or written out in longhand, etc., it’s legally copyrighted to you, the author.

4. When people talk about “copyrighting” their work, what they actually mean is REGISTERING the copyright with the US Copyright Office. This will cost you something on the order of 30 bucks, (or has the price gone up?). You’ll need to fill out forms, available on the US Copyright Office website, and send a copy or two of the work in. Then your copyright is REGISTERED to you.

5. Do you need to do this? Probably not for a novel, or a nonfiction book. Why not? Because your publisher will copyright the book in your name for you, after they acquire the rights to publish the book by paying you money. By the time the book is published, they will have registered the copyright, so you, the author, don’t have to do that. I’ve never registered the copyright on any of my books.


  1. I sent my manuscript to a company who prefers to do submission preferably by email. Could this be a scam? I also posted the manuscript on the 21/07/2008 by airsure and they say they have not received it. How can I retrieve my work in tact?

  2. I dont’ know that I’ve ever encountereda limit on a post that I was doing. Are you sure it just wasn’t Blogger acting hinky. It’s been doing that all week.

  3. Other fun copyright myths:

    * If you don’t put the copyright notice on your work, it isn’t protected.

    * If you post something to the web it falls into the public domain.

    Not to mention the Poor Man’s Copyright that turns up over and over again.

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