How to Register the Copyright For Your Book

David Rogers

The Copyright Symbol

There is often a bit of confusion when it comes to copyright protection and registration, but registering your book is actually a pretty simple process.

First of all, much of the confusion comes from the fact that copyright protection and copyright registration are two separate things. Copyright protection comes automatically as soon as a work is created. No further action (including publication, printing or registration) is required for a work to be protected.

Here’s how the Copyright Office puts it:

“Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.”

However, registering the copyright with the Copyright Office creates a public record of the protection, and is required for an infringement suit to be filed in a U.S. Court should the need arise (and also protection from a lawsuit filed against the work). For more on copyright law, see Copyright Basics from the Copyright Office.

How to Register

There are two ways to register: online and through paper mail.

Both will require you to do three things:

  1. Complete a copyright application
  2. Pay an application fee
  3. Send a copy of your book to the Copyright Office

To use either service, begin at the Copyright Office website:

Online Registration

The online version of registration is completed through the eCO Online System, which is the preferred method by the Copyright Office and is easiest (and most cost effective) for most self-publishers.

Steps to Register:

  1. Create an online account at U.S. Copyright Office eCO page.
  2. Fill out an electronic copyright application.
  3. Submit application fee ($35 as of this writing). You can pay by electronic check, credit or debit card, or Copyright Office deposit account.
  4. Submit electronic files of your book. This is optional in some situations.
  5. Mail hard copy of your book to the Copyright Office within three months of publication. This is known as the Deposit Requirement, and is optional in certain situations.

The final two steps are optional for some situations, and are primarily determined by whether or not you are printing hard copies of your book or if it will be released only as an ebook.

Deposit Requirements for Printed Books

If you will be printing your books, you must mail two non-returnable hard copies of the “best edition” to the Copyright Office within three months of publication (or printing). The “best edition” is defined as what the Copyright Office deems the best version of the book. For example, if you have a paperback edition and a hardcover edition, you would be required to send the latter.

*Note: To answer a question we hear quite a bit, this means that your book does not yet have to be printed before you register for a copyright. In fact, you can (and should) put a copyright notice on your copyright page before you register your book.

You also have the option of uploading an electronic version of your work when submitting your electronic application. This is primarily a measure for added protection for your work.

Deposit Requirements for Ebooks

If your book will only be published only online, it falls under a special category of the deposit requirement. Here’s the current official word on the matter:

Effective February 24, 2010, the Copyright Office adopted an interim regulation governing mandatory deposit of electronic works published in the United States and available only online. The regulation established that online-only works are exempt from mandatory deposit until the Copyright Office issues a demand for deposit of copies or phonorecords of such works.

However, you still have the option of submitting your electronic files with the application, which would be recommended.

Deposit Requirements for Unpublished Books

Unpublished books essentially work the same as ebooks, at least until you have them printed (if you will be printing them). However, as noted above, you will need to mail in two hard copies if and when they are ever printed.

Paper Registration

If you choose paper registration, the process is essentially the same except you will mail in your completed forms instead of submitting them online. The application fee is $65 for paper registration.

There are two ways to get your paper forms:

  1. Access them online. In this method you can either type in the information using Adobe Reader and then print them out and mail them in, or you can print them out and fill them out by hand before mailing.
  2. You can also request paper forms be mailed to you. This can be done on the Copyright Office website.

How Long Does It Take to Receive Your Registration

The time it takes to receive your copyright registration is also based on the application method you use. This time period also varies depending on the current workload of the Copyright Office.

As of this writing, the processing time for e-Filing is “generally, 3 to 5 months” and the time for paper forms is “generally, 7 to 10 months.”

The current processing times can be found on the eCO homepage.

It’s worth nothing again here that these times are only applicable to the time it takes you to receive your registration. Your work is copyrighted and protected as soon as you create it.