Sunday, June 16, 2013

Registering Copyright, a Guide by Me (Mostly Intended for Self-Published Authors)

One of the things I did at my old job was register copyright of all our titles. Since I became an agent, this has become mostly useless information in my head. But the other day I saw a website offering to register your copyright for $120 for application, plus filing fee.  (The filing fee is $35.) I was shocked.

So in the interest of saving you money, I am providing this basic tutorial on how to use the US Copyright website to register the copyright of your book. I'm a big fan of saving money, even if it's not mine.

Here's what it will cost: 1) Your Time (lots of clicking "continue"), 2) cost of deposit copies of work (see "Other Notes" below), and  3) the $35 filing fee.

Here's what it won't cost: $120. 

Please note: You do NOT need to do this if your book is unpublished or if it is being published by a large publisher (most publishing contracts make this the publisher's job).

Also know that US copyright law allows for some copyright protection the moment the work is set in a "fixed tangible form" that is, the moment you wrote or typed it up. Copyright registration is really just a nice thing to have most of the time. However, it is something you need to provide if there is any litigation based on your work, or (more happy circumstance) if a major motion picture studio wants to buy the rights to it.

Details one using the electronic copyright office (eCO) below the cut:

To start, to go and click on the "eCO Login / Electronic Copyright Office" image.

Then a parade of screens begin. You want to select LOGIN TO eCO: ELECTRONIC COPYRIGHT OFFICE again (because they didn't know you were serious last time). Then there is a note about security. Hit CONTINUE TO eCO (but this time, click like you mean it!).

There is going to be a lot of clicking continue to go to the next screen in the immediate future, so get used to that.

It will ask you to login or create a username. Do it. Once you are at your homepage, there will be a plethora of links on the left-hand side of the screen. Select REGISTER A NEW CLAIM from the "Copyright Registration" section.

Then hit START REGISTRATION (like you mean it!).

Hurrah! Now you actually start filling out forms.


Select a type of work—for books you are most likely going to select “literary work”— from the pull-down menu and then hit CONTINUE. 

EXCEPTIONS: If you are registering illustrations or photographs, select “Work of the Visual Arts” or an audiobook, select “Sound Recording”. But most book-related registrations are "literary work," duh.


Hit NEW to add the text of your title. Select “TITLE OF WORK BEING REGISTERED” from the pulldown menu. This is a required area. 

You may also list alternative titles in separate boxes. For example, if your book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone you might want to list Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was the original title, as a "previous or alternative title". Or “Harry Potter #1” in the "series title". Or somesuch. 

Only “title of work being registered” is required here. 

Then hit CONTINUE. 


A screen appears asking if your work has been published. The answer to this is YES. (You do not need to register the copyright of a work that hasn’t been published yet unless you believe there will be legal action BEFORE the book is released, which is practically never.) 

Once you select “Yes,” then it will ask for more information. 
  • A nation of first publication is required. This should be “United States” for most of you, because if you’re from another country, you probably don’t need to bother with crazy US copyright laws!?
  • ·       A year of creation. They are asking for the year the work was completed. Typically this is the same year it was published. EXCEPTIONS: 1) If you publish on January 1st of any year, the work was completed the year previous since that's just how time works. 2) If you’re publishing an old journal or family memoir, the year of completion would be the year it was written. This will not affect the copyright year which is ALWAYS based on year of initial publication
  • ·       Date of Publication. This should be self-explanatory. The date the work was made available for sale.
  • ·Another field asks for the International Standard Number Type and the book’s IS number. Most publishers assign an International Standard Book Number (“ISBN”) to the books they sell. Not all self-publishing platforms give you one, since they need to be purchased from Bowker. It is okay to leave these fields blank if you are unsure. 
ETA: It is best to wait until the official publication date of your book has passed to register copyright. You and I know that copies of books are often made available before the official release date, but this just tends to confuse the copyright office and slow down the process.


4.       AUTHORS 

Again you need to select NEW. You will be asked to give information on the book’s author. If this is you, this should be easy.
  • ·        The required fields on this page are a NAME or CORPORATION. Either or. You must also provide a citizenship or domicile.
  • ·        There is a field that asks if this is a “work made for hire.” Works made for hire are works that were commissioned by a large corporation and will be owned by that company not the author. You should most likely select “No”—because if the answer is yes, I would make the big corporation pay for copyright registration. 
  • If you're writing under a pseudonym, there is a box to check and a place to enter the pseudonym. 
Hit SAVE to move to the next screen.


Here you will be asked what the author contributed to the work. This is stuff you wrote, photos you took, illustrations you created.  If someone else made them, then don't include them.

There are ticky boxes.
  • ·          If you are the author of a novel, you want to select TEXT and move on. (Illustrations are likewise 2D illustrations and move on. Simple is better.)

Hit SAVE again. Then CONTINUE.

5.       CLAIMANT 

The claimant is the person/corporation who is going to claim copyright credit for the work. Most of the time this should be the same as “the author.” 

  • ·         If the claimant is not the same as the author, you need to provide a reason the other person or corporation is entitled to ownership. They call this a “transfer statement.” If the author has signed away rights “by contractual agreement” is a sufficient transfer statement. Or if the author has died and his or her heirs are claiming copyright, then “by will” works. (NOTE: If the author passes away just before publication, he or she cannot claim a new copyright after death.)



This can be a tricky part for some. Here is where you are specifying any other material that the author didn't provide.

If you wrote a novel and the entirety of the work sprang from your brain with no inspiration from anyone else, then you can just hit CONTINUE and move on.

However, if there are other bits of intellectual property in the work (like song lyrics, poems, photographs you didn’t take, illustrations you didn’t draw, OR if the work is based on another story like a fairy tale, or well-known story) then you need to cite that on the limitations screen. Type something like “song lyrics” into the text field.

Once you have done this, you need to restate the contribution the author made in the “new material included” section. This MUST MATCH the contribution listed on the Author screen (the second image in screen #4 above) EXACTLY. If you hit the “text” ticky box there, you need to hit it here. No differences!

NOTE: There is also a section for “previous registrations.” This only applies to revised works and is most likely skippable. If you are republishing a work that was already published, please know that you need to change at least 10% of the work (through updating and adding new information, etc) to be allowed to register again. You do NOT need to register again if you’re just republishing in a new format.



Here begins three screens where the copyright office asks you for contact information. This screen, Rights and Permissions, will be made searchable through their website. It is in case someone wants to contact you about permissions (like excerpting a bit of it). So fill this out if you want, but know it is optional.


You might think, “What the hell? Didn’t I just give them a contact person?” Well this screen is for the copyright office to contact you if they have a question about your application. You want to make this as easy as possible for them, so provide good information about where you can be contacted during weekday work hours to make the application process as speedy.


More contact information. This is the address you want the certificate to be mailed to. Yes, certificates are sent hardcopy via USPS so a valid postal address is necessary.



Avoid this screen like the plague. It costs extra, and see above where I like saving money. Just hit CONTINUE as fast as you can. 

EXCEPTION: There is pending legal action surrounding your claim. In which case, sorry, bro. 

Put YOUR NAME (whether you are the author or not) and check the box. This screen also allows you to write notes to the copyright office. Resist the urge to say something like, “do you like me? Check this box” or something juvenile.


This screen allows to you check for typos or mistakes in your previous entries. Hopefully you were perfect or else you’ll need to hit BACK a lot. 

Once you’re sure it’s all good, hit ADD TO CART and figure out how you’re going to pay for this! 

You need to provide copies of your work to the Library of Congress with your application. If you work is only available as an ebook, then you can upload the work in the eCO. 

However, if your book is in print they will want you to mail in TWO copies of the book with your application. Also note that the LoC has a hierarchy of edition types they like. (Hardcover is better than paperback; paperback is better than digital.)  So you need to provide the "best" edition.


  1. Thanks for doing this! I used to copyright batches of my photos and it was a timesaver/moneysaver to do it as a collection. But haven't tackled a book copyright yet so this is helpful.

  2. Ah, what perfect timing this is. Just when I was wondering what to do, up this pops. Now I'm not just staring at a homepage going 'what next?'

  3. This is a little off topic, but I just noticed that you will be attending the Utah writers' conference this fall. I'm so glad the board invited you. I'd hoped that I let them know about your interest early enough. I'll watch for you and say hello during the conference.

  4. Thank you for this excellent guide, Emily. You were kind enough to read a partial of mine a few months ago and I never got back to tell you how much I appreciated your comments, so let me do so now. I ended up self-publishing that work but if I decide to go traditional with any future releases, I will definitely keep you in mind.

  5. Looking for copyright registration process in India at best price Rs 4999 by expert team of Lawyers/CA/CS.