Why and How to Copyright Your Self-Published Book

Please welcome back special guest poster Kathryn Goldman. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of her free Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report, make sure you don’t miss out on the chance to get this extremely helpful resource!


Why and How to Copyright Your Self-Published Book

By Kathryn Goldman

The mantra chanted by people like me (copyright lawyers) in favor of registering the copyright in your work with the United States Copyright Office is that if you have registered your work in a timely manner and somebody infringes it, you can sue them and possibly recover your attorneys’ fees and statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement).

Attorneys fees and statutory damages can be a powerful big stick to use against evil deed doers, or infringers. The threat of a substantial monetary award can be useful to quickly resolve disputes.

It may be that the notion of initiating and financing a federal lawsuit for copyright infringement is alien to you. The question becomes—if you’re not going to litigate—just how useful is a copyright registration on your work?

The answer is that it’s hard to know right now what action you might want to take in the future if your work is infringed. But for $35, it makes sense to create basic protections for your work after you’ve spent countless hours writing and editing and real money on editors, cover art and book design. Throw down the extra $35 and file for that registration. One day, you just might need it.

Electronic Copyright Application Process

Today we’re going to go step-by-step through the online application process for registration of a Literary Work by a single US author. (My apologies to Marcy’s non-US readers for lack of relevance.) To illustrate the process, I’m going to show you actual screenshots of the application for registration of my “Literary Work” Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report which I wrote in October 2014 and revised in November 2014.

Log in to eCO

In order to file an application online with the Copyright Office, you need to create an account which means a username and password. I know, it’s just another ID/password combination to forget . . . I mean remember.

It is possible to register your work old-school style by mailing in a paper application. That costs $85. The savings for electronic filing is significant.

How to Register Using a Single Form (Single Author and Single Work)

After you’ve created your account and signed in, select “Register a New Claim” using the menu on the left under the section Copyright Registration.


Preliminary Questions

The first screen has three preliminary questions that focus on the author or creator. For our example, we’re completing an application for just the text of a work (my report) for which I am the author and owner with material created only by me.

These questions should all be answered “Yes.” Then “Continue.”


Type of Work

The next screen determines the type of work that is being registered. Literary Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy and other written works.

Sometimes a work has two or more types of authorship, like a book that is mostly text but has some photographs. In that case, choose “Literary Work” because the work is made up of mostly literary material.

Remember, this is not an example of filing an application for a work that is created by two different authors. This is a single author application.

For our example, select literary work in the drop-down box and click “Continue.”


Title of the Work

Enter the title of the work and whether it has appeared in a collection, like a volume of short stories, for example. Then click “Continue.”



A published work is one that is offered for sale or distribution to the public. Online content is considered to be published if the copyright owner authorizes the end user to retain copies of the content or further distribute the content.

Once you’ve uploaded your ebook to Amazon, or anywhere for that matter, for sale or free download, it is considered published by the Copyright Office.

An application for registration is considered timely if it is completed within three months of publication or before infringement.

If you have an ISBN, this is where that information belongs:



This is the section in which you identify yourself as the author of the work.


Progress Checklist

As you move through the form, there is a checklist that updates as you go showing you how much of the application you’ve completed and how much there is left to go.


Excluded Material

This is the section of the application referred to as “Limitation of Claim” in the progress checklist in which the material not created by the author is excluded.

In this case, I have excluded the photograph and the cover art because I did not take the picture or create the cover. My portrait was taken by Chris Stadler.

If you select excluded material, you must also select the included material. In this case, I am only seeking copyright on the text that I wrote.


Rights & Permissions Contact Information

If I complete this form for one of my clients, this is where I identify myself as the contact person. You can identify yourself in this section.


NOTE: This information is publicly available and you want to be careful about what you include. I use my office address, email and phone number.


The correspondent is the person whom the Copyright Office will contact if there is a question about the application. This is a service I handle on behalf of my clients but you can identify yourself in this section.


Special Handling

Because a registration is needed in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement in the United States, you may have to request special handling to expedite the filing. Special handling is significantly more expensive than a regular filing by hundreds of dollars.

If you did not file within three months of publication or before infringement, you will not be entitled to statutory damages and attorneys fees but you will be entitled to injunctive relief. Injunctive relief means that you can ask a court to issue an order that the infringer stop the infringing action.

In an ideal world no special handling is needed because you have added copyright registration to your work flow and when you need it, it has been done.

I recommend that you make applying for copyright registration a regular habit when you finish each book. That way, if you decide you must file a lawsuit, you’ll be ready and you won’t be scrambling.


Is the section of the application in which you swear that it is your work or that you are the authorized agent of the creator.


Review the Application

If the application is correct, add it to your cart and check-out for $35. If there are any mistakes, now is the chance to fix them.

Deposit Copy

After the U.S Treasury processes payment, the Copyright Office will ask for the deposit copy of the work which you should have ready on your hard drive. A deposit copy is a copy of the work for which your are seeking registration to be kept by the Library of Congress.

Before clicking upload deposit, make sure your pop-up blocker has been disabled.

Browse for and select your file. In this case mine is a PDF, type in a short title and submit.


Application Confirmation eMail

When your deposit copy is received, you’ll receive an email from the Copyright Office confirming a completed application. From that point, it will take about eight months to receive the Registration. But the effective date of the Registration is retroactive to the date of the application. The timeliness of the application is what is important.

The application can become more complex if there is cover art, an introduction or other supplementary materials in the work that you did not create and you want protection for those elements of the work.

The Copyright Office has tried to design the online application so it can be completed by individuals without the help of an attorney.

But if you have questions, let me know in the comments.

Kathryn Goldman lawyerKathryn Goldman is a lawyer who protects writers, artists, and businesses from having their work and art ripped off. Since she’s a lawyer, she has to mention that she’s not *your* lawyer (so this article isn’t technically legal advice), but you’re still invited to download her Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report.

Follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynGoldman

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