Disclaimer: This article provides an overview of the basic principles of copyright in the United States. The material contained in this article is NOT legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client or other confidential relationship between the User and the Author Learning Center. Users should contact an attorney in their jurisdiction for legal advice regarding their particular situation.

Question: In writing and self-publishing a book, when should you apply for a copyright?



There is a common misconception that authors must formally register their written work with a copyright office in order to protect it under copyright law. The fact is, the moment you type or write your work you are the owner under federal law. However, in the rare case your work is stolen or plagiarized, there are benefits to registering your work.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the legal principle that’s intended to prevent your book from being copied and distributed by another party, and is one of the most important intellectual properties for authors. Per the United States Copyright office, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  There are benefits to registering a copyright when writing a book.

Copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to:

• reproduce the copyrighted work
• prepare derivative works
• distribute copies
• display the work publicly (including social media)

Copyright also provides the owner the right to authorize others to exercise these exclusive rights, subject to certain statutory limitations. Copyrights can be sold, licensed, transferred, and inherited. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, have a copyright term of life of the author, plus seventy years after the author’s death, under the current law.

So, why register my work if I’m automatically protected?

Registration is voluntary, but there are a couple of key benefits to registering your work. First, registration is required before you can file a copyright infringement lawsuit, and registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Statutory damages are damages that can be awarded by a judge or jury to a copyright owner. If you do suspect someone has stolen your work and you want to file a lawsuit, you will be a step ahead and have a distinct advantage.  

Second, many authors choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Per Greg Victoroff, Esq., partner at Greg Victoroff & Associates, “There’s no reason not to register.” He says it is one of the most economical ways to protect your intellectual property.

How and when do I register a copyright?

Traditional publishers typically register the books they publish. If you are self-publishing, you will want to be aware of the policies regarding copyright. Reputable assisted self-publishing companies are upfront about their copyright policies and often provide helpful information or assistance with registering a book. For U.S. authors, you can also visit the U.S. Copyright Office website for steps on how to register on your own. The current cost for registering a copyright online in the U.S. for one work by a single author is $45.00.

Authors can register a copyright at any time in the writing and publishing process, but it is recommended by many industry professionals that they do so before sharing the manuscript with others, whether that’s for editing, advanced reviews, or publication.


It’s important to note that copyright law may differ country to country and that there is no such thing as “international copyright law”. To protect creators around the world, nearly 180 countries have ratified a treaty called the Berne Convention, which establishes minimum standards for protection from country to country.