Copyright 101, the Other Half

6. Are there exceptions to this advice (that you, the author, should wait for your publisher to register the copyright on your book in your name)? Sure.

a. if your book is Print on Demand or an e-book, and if you paid to publish it, you’ll need to register copyright yourself. One of the things that distinguishes a “real” publisher from a vanity press or author mill (like PublishAmerica) is that the author must register his or her own copyright, as opposed to the publisher handling this.

b. these days the copyright laws regarding short stories are a bit muddy, and have come under some question, especially as regards anthologies and magazines. SO…if you write short stories, it’s not a bad idea to grab a handful of them, and register the copyright on them yourself. You can send in five or ten at a time, for the same fee.

c. if you are an aspiring author and extremely paranoid that someone will steal your book and attempt to publish it, sure, go ahead and register your copyright yourself. That way, if your worst fears are realized, you’ll be able to sue for big bucks in damages. HOWEVER, if you do this, for goodness sakes keep the fact that you’ve done it to yourself. DO NOT put a line in your query letter or cover letter to the effect that: “Oh, and by the way, this book is copyrighted, so don’t even think of stealing it, because I’ll sue you.”

Hey, I know you’re rolling your eyes, but I assure you that agents and editors get letters with warnings like these all the time. And those letters earn their author a quick trip on the Round File Express to Dumpsterland.

7. Are there any times when an author’s name will NOT appear on the copyright page?

Yes. When an author does what is called “tie-in” or “franchise” writing, in a universe established by another creator, the work will be copyrighted to the original creator of the universe, or the corporation that owns the license, rather than to the person that actually wrote the book. For example, if you look at the copyright page of any of my Star Wars novels, you’ll see that the work is copyrighted “Lucasfilm” rather than “A.C. Crispin.”

But this is not something you need to worry too much about, since franchise universes don’t deal with authors unless they have recognized literary agents and a good track record of sales.

The ONLY exception to the above is the horrendous demand made by a few lunatic fringe scam publishers that the author should sign over his or her copyright to the publisher. This is such an outrageous demand that even Writer Beware has only found one scam publisher that currently does this — Royal Fireworks. Obviously, they are a major AVOID.

9. With the above in mind, it should be easy to remember that when you, the author, sell a book, what you’re selling is the RIGHT TO PUBLISH, not the copyright. Remember this, and remember it well: copyright and publishing rights are NOT the same thing.

10. If you feel the need to protect yourself against plagiarism (though to be brutally frank, unpublished manuscripts are fairly worthless to anyone but their authors), spend the money and register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. Don’t fall for the advice of clueless writers on the internet, or even some so-called “publishers” (PublishAmerica springs to mind, cause they do this) and decide to use the “poor man’s copyright.” Sending your manuscript to yourself in a sealed envelope is not the same thing as actually registering your copyright. It’s worthless, and won’t hold up in court as proof of authorship.

(Thanks for reminding me of this one, btw…I almost forgot to mention it!)

Anyhow, hope that little primer is helpful.


-Ann C. Crispin

1 Comment

  1. One of the things that distinguishes a “real” publisher from a vanity press or author mill (like PublishAmerica) is that the author must register his or her own copyright, as opposed to the publisher handling this.

    The wording confused me here. For a moment I thought you meant to say that ‘real’ publishers make the author register hir copyright rather than handle it for them. But we both know that it’s the other way around – it’s PA and other scamsters who make the author do all the work.

    Speaking of work – Ann, you and Victoria have my highest regard for the information you provide to authors everywhere, and for going after pondscum like the Deerings and Iveries. Keep up the good work.

    Katrien Rutten

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