Book copyright protection comes up frequently in questions from readers. This is especially true now, when book manuscripts travel through electronic means; when the international worlds of book and other media are "closer" than ever before; and when there are so many new and unproven players (like dozens of self-publishing services). It is natural to want to know how best to protect your intellectual property (i.e. your book) when there are so many different potential eyes seeing it--and, especially, when it is still in an unpublished form of a manuscript.
Here are some answers to reader's questions about copyright for books.
Q. I heard that you cannot copyright a book title. Is that true?
A. Yes. for more information on copyrights and titles, read this article. (And, if you want to read about writing a great title for your book, click here).
Q. A publisher suggested I send the unpublished manuscript of my book via email, in an attached document. Is it safe? I mean, could somebody see my book, and steal it from me, and afterwards publish it as his own?
A. While this is possible, it's not likely. That said, when sending manuscripts via email for review by anyone who's not your editor, if possible, send them in PDF form, not in a word document. Anyone who is tempted to steal your work would have to go through the trouble of retyping it!
If you are sending your unpublished book manuscript to a self-publishing service to be published, you should make sure the company you're dealing with is reputable (read some Self-Publishing Company Reader Reviews to get a sense of other peoples' experiences). Different self-publishing services have different methods for aspiring book authors to send in their manuscripts, some of them very secure. Again, while technically book piracy is a possibility, it's not probable for a number of reasons.
First, the volume of self-published books is very high and for those out to steal great books to claim their own, it would be an effort akin to finding a needle in a thousand haystacks.
Second, your unpublished work is protected by U.S. copyright, which "... protects an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form."
According to the U.S. Copyright office, you may wish to place a copyright
notice on any unpublished copies of your manuscript that leave your control.
Example: Unpublished work © 2012 Jane Doe
If you would like peace of mind, you may want to further protect your work. See the answer to the last question.
Q. A self-publishing service explains in their booklet that every creative work is a priori protected by American Law. Does this apply to me as well, considering that I am not American? I am a Serbian citizen who lives and works in Europe?
A. According to the U.S. Copyright Law, "Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works, regardless of the nationality or residence of the author."
So, it would seem that if you are sending your work to a U.S. company, it would be protected by United States copyright law.
However, it also states, "There is no such thing as an 'international copyright' that
will automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country." So, if you are really worried about how your book rights are protected (or not) worldwide, it would be best to check with an agent or attorney.
Q. If the U.S. Copyright law is universal, and works on the world level, what are the methods of assuring its application? Emails aren't always secure.
A. As stated above, copyright law isn't universal, but definitely offers protections in the United States. For more peace of mind and some additional protection, you may want to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can register a literary work online through the U. S. Electronic Copyright Office.
Read more about author's rights in the publishing process.