Copyright is literally the right to copy. If you own copyright to your work, only you can reproduce and sell it, and only you can give someone else the right to reproduce and sell it. Your copyrights begin as soon as you put your material in tangible form, so when you write your book, it automatically is copyright protected, even before you send it to a printer/publisher or register it with the US Copyright Office. You own exclusive rights to your work until you choose to give up those rights, or those rights expire according to copyright law (your life span plus 70 years, by current law).
Again, copyright protection exists whether you register your work or not. However, registration with the US Copyright Office does establish a public record of your copyright claim. Furthermore, should you find it necessary to file an infringement suit in the future, your work must be registered before such a suit can be filed. Registration affords other advantages as well; visit the US Copyright Office website for more information. If nothing else, authors, especially first-time authors, may simply get a thrill out of possessing a copyright certificate for their work.
A copyright claim may be filed online or by mail; the online method is cheaper. The application asks for information such as book title, author and publisher contact information, what content in the book is included and excluded in the claim, etc. Regardless of the method used to submit the claim, two (2) copies of the book must be submitted by mail (eBooks may be uploaded). Receipt of the copyright certificate may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Errors or omissions in the application will delay the process and may even result in a phone call or email message from the copyright office seeking to clear up any confusion.
Most publishers (self- and traditional) will offer to submit your copyright application for you. They may include the cost in the overall publishing price or charge an additional fee. If you’re uncertain or anxious about the application process, you should spend the extra money and allow the more experienced publishing staff to take care of this important step for you. Just make sure to follow up periodically to ensure you receive your copyright certificate.
Regardless of whether you choose to register your copyright claim, make sure a copyright line (e.g., “© 2023 John Doe”) and statement appear in your book (on the copyright page, of course) to let readers know your work is copyright protected, as well as who has the right to grant permissions regarding any reproduction requests. If you self-publish your book, the statement will most likely designate you as the person with authority to grant such permission. Traditional publishers usually place themselves in this role (although the copyright line should still display the author’s name). An example of a copyright statement appears below:
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages or reproduce illustrations in a review; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording, or other, without written permission from the author.