How to Copyright a Book Before Publishing

Do I need to copyright my book? This is something many authors ask themselves. In short, yes! You’ve poured your heart and soul into writing your book as an author, so understanding book copyright laws matters when it comes to safeguarding your intellectual property.

Copyright for a book is a group of exclusive rights, including the authority to reproduce, distribute, create derivative works, and publicly display your work.

This article explores the process of copyrighting a book before publishing and what it means to have copyrighted books.

How to Copyright a Book Before Publishing

Copyright for a book begins the moment you start writing your book. As soon as you put your novel into written form, whether typed, handwritten, or recorded in some other way, your literary work is automatically protected by copyright laws for books.

Under U.S. copyright laws, this protection lasts for the author's lifetime, plus 70 years. This extended protection period ensures that your original work remains under your control and exclusive rights for a significant amount of time.

No wonder many authors and creators need clarification about the difference between copyright on books and registering your copyright. And whether a registration is required.

Here's a breakdown to clarify the distinction:

a) Copyright on a book

The default copyright prescriptions come with the following:

  • automatic protection

You automatically receive copyright protection when you create an original work, such as a book.


Works published in the United States before 1928 are automatically in the public domain.

For works published between 1928 and 1978, the copyright status depends on whether a copyright notice was included. If no notice was provided, the work is in the public domain. The work may be protected for 95 years from publication if a notice is included.

For works published between 1978 and March 1989, the copyright status depends on whether notice was included and whether the work was registered within five years. If no notice was provided and the work was not registered, it is in the public domain.

After March 1989, all works are protected for 70 years from the date of the author's death.

For corporate authorship, the copyright term is the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. This means that unpublished works of an author who died in 1943, for example, are now in the public domain.

Read more here.


In Europe, the public domain rules vary by country, but generally, works published before 1923 are in the public domain.

For works published between 1923 and 1964, the copyright term is typically 50 years from publication. The copyright term for works published between 1965 and 1995 is typically 70 years from publication. The copyright term for works published after 1995 is generally 70 years from the author's death.

b) Registration of copyright


Registering your copyright for a book is a formal process where you submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office and pay a fee. This registration provides legal proof of ownership and protection.

To start the registration, you must upload a digital copy of your book (PDF or Word document) and provide metadata (title, author name, publication date, etc.). For books, you must select the correct type of copyright claim (literary work), fill out the required information, pay the fee [currently $45], and wait for the U.S. Copyright Office to review and process your application. You'll receive an email confirmation once your application is approved.

💡 Note that:

  • Registering your book with the U.S. Copyright Office is not the same as publishing your book. You can still publish your book without registering it, but registering it provides legal protection and proof of ownership.
  • Copyright registration is not automatic. You need to actively register your book to obtain copyright protection.
  • Copyright protection is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. If you're the author, your copyright will expire 70 years after death.

Registering your copyright provides evidence of your ownership and can be used in court if someone infringes on your work. Registered works can qualify for statutory damages, awarded in court if someone infringes on your work.


To copyright a book before publishing in Europe, choose the relevant national office or registry where you want to register your work. Fill out the application form provided by the national office or registry, providing the required information such as the title of your work, author's name, date of creation or publication, and description of the work. Pay the filing fee, which varies depending on the country and type of work.

After submitting your application, wait for the national office or registry to review and process your application. Once approved, you'll receive a registration certificate. Keep a copy of your application and registration certificate, as these may be required for proof of ownership or in case of disputes. EU copyright protection is typically valid for the author’s life plus 70 years.

Why should you copyright books?

Registering a copyright for a book comes with multiple benefits for authors and creators. It records ownership, helps deter others from copying your work, and allows you to enforce your rights. Registering your copyright within three months of publication or before an infringement occurs can help you recover statutory damages and attorney fees if you sue someone for copyright infringement.

Registration creates a legal presumption of validity, making it easier to prove ownership and enforce your rights.

💡 If you are a publisher, assigning or licensing rights to your publishing company can have significant tax implications, and registering your copyright can help you navigate fiscal requirements.

Can you have international copyright protection?

The short answer is no. There is no automatic international copyright protection. However, several international agreements and treaties provide a framework for copyright protection across different countries.

1. Berne Convention

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international treaty signed in 1886 and ratified by over 160 countries. The convention sets out the minimum standards for copyright protection, including the requirement for copyright protection to be automatic and not require registration.

2. TRIPS Agreement

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement that sets out minimum standards for intellectual property protection, including copyright. TRIPS requires countries to provide minimum protection for copyright holders, including the right to prevent unauthorized reproduction and distribution of their work.

3. WIPO Treaties

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is an international organization that sets out standards for intellectual property protection. WIPO has developed several treaties and agreements that provide a framework for copyright protection, including the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

4. National laws

While there is no automatic international copyright protection, countries have their own laws and regulations that provide protection for copyright holders. These laws may vary from country to country, and authors should research the specific regulations of the countries where they want to protect their work.

Read more on:


1. How do I copyright a story?

When it comes to copyrighting your work, you can protect various written works such as:

  • novels, biographies, memoirs, cookbooks, and nonfiction books
  • collections of shorter works, like books of poems or short stories
  • a compilation of pre-existing works, such as an anthology of the year’s best short fiction. In this case, the copyright extends only to the new content you prepared for the compilation, such as the selection and arrangement of the stories, but not to the underlying stories themselves.

2. Can you copyright a book title?

In short, the answer is no; you cannot copyright a book title. Book titles are not eligible for copyright protection under U.S. copyright law. This is because a book title is considered a title or a name, which is not considered a creative work that can be protected by copyright.

However, you can trademark a book title, which means you can register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to prevent others from using it. This is because a trademark is a type of intellectual property that protects a word, phrase, logo, or symbol that identifies a business or product.

In Europe, trademarks are regulated by the European Union's Trademark Regulation. If your book title is a distinctive and unique name, logo, or symbol that identifies your book, you can register it as a trademark.

3. Can you publish a book with the same title as another?

Many authors ask themselves how to copyright the title of a book, but as mentioned above, book titles are not considered copyrightable.

Since book titles are not copyrightable, in theory, you could use the same title on a book. Yet, this decision may have daunting marketing effects, especially if your book falls under the same category and genre as the original one. If your book further mimics or adapts the other book's content without permission, they could take legal action against you.

As an author, if you're keen on how to copyright a book’s name, you need to consider registering it as a trademark.


While copyright ownership is inherent to the creator of a work of intellectual property, registering a copyright provides additional evidence of ownership, particularly for unpublished works.

Authors often employed a poor man's copyright strategy in the past, mailing a copy of their work to themselves via the US Postal Service and keeping it unopened to record the date. However, this approach is often misunderstood and provides no additional legal protection for the author.

In case of legal disputes, copyright registration grants authors damages and protects their works from piracy in the age of AI-assisted writing.