In the United States, a copyright arises automatically once the work is “fixed” in a “tangible medium” of expression. The book must be expressed in a medium that is sufficiently permanent so that it can be reproduced and viewed. Usually, an original draft of a book itself is evidence that the book is protected by copyright law.
Copyrights do not protect basic ideas, but only their particular artistic expression or “fixation.” Thus, if an author presents an idea in a way that is original and unique, their book will be copyrighted. This is different from a patent, which protects physical objects and inventions, and a trademark, which is a symbol used to identify a particular product.
The protections associated with copyrights exist only for a certain amount of time, after which the book is said to enter into the public domain. This means that the book may be used by the public without risk of copyright infringement. Authors may choose to register their copyright for further protections.
Copyright allows the author to exercise exclusive control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. Authors also receive rights over derivative works (adaptations of the book, such as turning the book into a movie) and certain rights over public performances or displays of the book.
Of these rights, by far the most important and commonly disputed is the right to reproduce the work. The term “copyright” originally referred to “the right to copy” a particular book.
The holder of a book copyright may want to register their book copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office (Library of Congress). Registering your copyright provides additional protections that are not available to unregistered works. For example, registering your copyright allows you to:
File a lawsuit for copyright infringement
Obtain damages for infringement
Use the copyright as evidence in court
If you wish to register your copyrighted book with the U.S. Copyright Office, you should fill out and submit Form TX or Short Form TX. There may be a processing fee associated with the registration. Registration can be done electronically using Form CO.
If your book is protected under copyright laws, then others may not use or reproduce your work without your permission. If you feel that your rights have been violated, you may wish to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.
In a lawsuit involving copyright infringement of a literary work, the copyright holder usually must prove that 1) the defendant had access to the work and 2) the republished work is sufficiently similar to your copyrighted work.
The plaintiff will typically be able to recover monetary damages for lost profits. In some cases punitive damages are available where the violation was willful. Alternatively, they may also file for an injunction asking the court to prevent others from using their work.
Copyright protection is an important aspect of publishing a book. If you feel that your rights have been violated, or if you desire to register your work, you should contact an intellectual property attorney for advice. They will be able to explain to you all the various rights and limitations associated with book copyrights.