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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When should I copyright my work?

Short answer: Copyright attaches to your work from the moment of creation.You own the copyright to all your drafts. Whether on paper or purely electronic, from the moment you write, you own the copyright. Registration of copyright is no longer a prerequisite for owning your intellectual property. However, copyright registration in the United States confers several advantages. If you are contemplating having issues with your copyright (i.e. infringement by other parties etc), then copyright registration in the US is a good idea.
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Unless you explicitly assigned your copyright in a binding agreement, you own all rights to your writing, including submissions to writing groups, workshops, and magazines.

Your book contract, even contracts with magazines for short stories, will require you to license, perhaps even assign, your copyright to the publisher. You do not need to register your copyright before signing such contracts as you already own the copyright to your work. However, your publisher will either register or have you register  your work formally with the copyright office, prior to distribution of your work. (In Australia, there is no registration office for copyrights).

When should I register my copyright?

Short answer: Copyright attaches to your work from the moment of creation. Registration is no longer necessary under copyright laws in most jurisdictions.  
(N.B. This is a different rule from patents and trademarks, where registration is essential.)

Your copyright ownership, either registered or unregistered, is effective in all countries that have signed the various copyright treaties.

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While you own what you write, you do not own any copyright to your ideas. Only expressions of ideas may be protected as intellectual property.

Registration is mainly for purposes of evidence in cases of infringement lawsuits, particularly in the United States. The date on your copyright registration will prove the originality of your work if the date is earlier than the other party's registration.

Because copyright attaches to a work from the moment of creation, you may put 'all rights reserved' or 'copyright [insert year]' on your work without need of registration (as I've done below).

As many experts will advise, do not put copyright marks on your submissions, queries or proposals as this will mark you as an 'amateur', precisely because everyone in the publishing industry knows that you automatically own copyright to your work.

It would be a good idea to put copyright marks on your blog, website, photos, etc., as most internet users (I hope) are more circumspect about copying work that are appropriately marked.

Merely publishing work without putting a copyright mark DOES NOT put your work 'in the public domain'. If you want to make your work broadly accessible and you wish to freely allow reprints or dissemination of your writing, you may wish to use one of the Creative Commons licenses.

Feel free to send questions as comments to this post. For advice on specific instances or cases of infringement, please see disclaimer below.

Would you like to learn more about copyright and licensing? Post some topics you want me to cover  as comments to this article. Or ask a question on the Post a Question page. 

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Article originally appeared on published by the same author.

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  1. But isn't it true that if someone produced a similar work as yours, and they registered before you do, you would be at a disadvantage?

    Greets upvc conservatories consultant

    1. Hi James,

      Yes, you are entirely correct. You would be at a disadvantage if either of you sued the other for copyright infringement.

      The value of registration is with regard to litigation. Registration effectively provides a government-certified date of creation. A certificate of copyright registration is considered prima facie evidence in the US of originality of the work (see

      That said, many countries DO NOT have registration offices. Australia, where I live, is one example. Works are deposited with the National Library to ensure works are preserved for future use. The National Library website states, "There is no inherent relationship between Legal Deposit and copyright."

  2. I am really pleased to post my comment on this blog .I love your blog by the way, I am gonna have to add you to my list of watched blogs
    DIY Conservatories


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