How do I Copyright a Novel?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

In order to copyright a novel, the first step is to write one. In most regions, the creator of a work has the sole legal copyright, unless it is sold to a publisher. In case of theft or unauthorized use, however, it is important to create a legal record for both the novel and the creator. Establishing a record will ensure that only the true owner of the material can authorize production or excerpts, and may be very important if a plagiarism case ever comes to court. Fortunately, in many regions, there is a simple way to copyright a novel through a government organization.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The basic process to copyright a novel first requires the author to find the certification body in charge of registering copyrights. This will be different in each country or region, but is usually found through government or public auspices. In the United States, a person can copyright a novel through the Library of Congress, though some third party organizations also exist that provide product registration and legal documentation.

Once a copyright agency is determined, the next step to copyright a novel involves filling out forms pertaining to the work. This may include basic information, such as the title, a summary of the main events, page count, date completed, and author information. These details may seem trivial but are critical to proving a copyright claim; in cases where an author believes his or her work has been stolen and reproduced, how it was described in the registration documents may become an issue in court. Be as specific as possible and be sure to record the exact date of completion.

Most organizations charge a fee to copyright a novel. This helps to cover administrative and packaging costs, and is generally fairly low. In some cases, a fee waver may be a possibility, but this varies enormously depending on regional laws. Forms, fees, and a copy of the novel itself may be submitted to the registration agency. In many cases, transactions are now fully managed through the Internet.

The process to copyright a novel is complete once a certification of registration is received by the author. This will usually be sent by mail and include a registration number, name of the author, title of the novel, and relevant dates. This document should be kept in a secure location in case of any legal challenge to the work. The certification serves as proof of registration in most courts of law.

It is important to know that copyrights may have set terms of expiration. Some systems require that a copyright be renewed periodically, or if any substantial changes are made to the manuscript. Copyrights usually expire permanently some years after the original author dies. At this point, unless the copyright is renewed by a representative estate, the book may become part of the public domain and open to free use.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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