Chip MacGregor

October 2, 2013

Do I need to copyright my work?


The US has great copyright laws. The fact is, if you wrote it, and you can prove you wrote it, our laws already protect your work. That means if you have written words, music, dance steps, art, a screenplay, a speech, or even an architectural drawing, you own it and your rights are protected from the very moment you created it. Pretty cool, no?

That said, copyright law can be both difficult and confusing, even for attorneys and agents who work with intellectual property all the time. Fortunately, the web has made researching and understanding the copyright and fair use issues much easier. In a recent issue of Publishers Weekly, Betsy Kelly Sargent, founder and CEO of BookWorks, noted that, regardless of the tangible benefits of US Copyright law, she still encourages self-publishing authors to register their works. (That’s not something I do — I believe the strength of the copyright law is adequate to protect self-published authors in most situations. However, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not offering a legal opinion — just offering what I’ve found to be true in publishing these past couple of decades.)

Still, since I frequently get this question, I wanted to show what Ms Sargent offered as the process for self-published authors to get their own copyright. (This is from the August 26, 2013, edition of Publishers Weekly, page 6, Understanding Copyright: What Every Indie Author Needs to Know, and was written by Betsy Kelly Sargent.) She suggests:

Go to:

● Create a username and password;

● Follow the instructions for registering your work-in-progress;

● Get your pre-registration claim number by paying the $115; then, when you have your e-book in its final digital form, you can complete your copyright registration by going to:

● Log in with your username and password;

● Fill in the required information and include your pre-registration number;

● Upload your e-book;

● Pay an additional $35;

● Receive your copyright number.

She notes that it will take about four to six weeks for the copyright number to arrive.

Ms Sargent also notes that there are certain advantages to registering your work, including having the proof of the date of creation, and proving ownership so that if you ever go after someone stealing your work you won’t have to prove actual damage. If you need more information, pick up that edition of PW and read her entire article, or check out, a site for self-publishers. They’ve got great resources for writers interested in posting their books online.



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  • Does a copyright have to be in your own name? Or can it be in the name of a corporation or a trust?

  • Thanks for sharing this info. Being married to a lawyer, my hubby is quite certain I need to get my work copyrighted. However, I’ve heard that even if you do pay to have it copyrighted, it can be stolen in other countries…and I imagine it’s hard to bring a lawsuit overseas. I suppose the big problem would come if someone wants to make a movie or if your book gets really huge (of course, my hubby is convinced this will happen for me…I love that man).

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s correct, Heather. And tough to go after someone in another country. So you take the steps you feel are best in this process.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    I copyrighted my work MANY years ago, and if memory serves, it was $20 per piece! I guess we’re dealing with inflation here?

    Then (can’t remember where or when in my zillion hours of reading on writing, etc.) I read it’s best not to copyright since it makes it more difficult when you get traditionally published, but registering with the the WGA (East or West) was a good thing to do. That’s been my route for over a decade now 🙂 I’m happy with it!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes to your inflation question, Donna Marie. But no, I don’t find getting the formal copyright makes publishing any more difficult.

  • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    Interesting… I was actually wondering about this. Thanks for the info. 🙂

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