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Should I Copyright My Book Idea?

Updated on March 8, 2013

Do You Need a Copyright for Your First Novel?


Do I need to get a copyright for my novel before sending it out to publishers? This is a very common question for first time and beginning writers and novelists alike, and one that is asked by virtually every early writer. This was a question I had when nearing the end of my first novel manuscript. Large works of art, especially something like a novel, isn't just a project that you spent hundreds of hours on but it's a piece of your heart, mind, passion, and soul. The worst fear of an artist is to have such a large and intimate work stolen and credited to the very person who stole it. Can a copyright protect you from this fear? Do you need a copyright? Speaking only to the copyright of writing that you create, the answer is no, you don't need to apply and pay for a copyright to get protection, because as of 1989, you automatically have protection from the moment the words leave your mind and are written on the page. I'll explain in more detail in this hub about your automatic copyright protections.

What is Automatic Copyright Protection?


Copyright law when applied to novels or original creative written works protects "works of authorship." This covers a wide variety of literary works, including short stories, poetry, non-fiction articles, newspaper articles, brochures, catalogues, novels, screenplays, plays, and even databases. This just barely scratches the surface of what the copyright can cover and protect.

Copyright does NOT cover facts, words, names, symbols (though some symbols can be trademarked), and ideas. That last point is extremely important, and is something that all authors need to understand, especially if they're going around talking about their idea for a new novel or story with other people:


Sorry for the shouting, but that is an extremely important piece of information. Copyright doesn't protect ideas or outlines. When you write the story down on paper, at that very moment those words are protected by you under copyright unless you give that copyright away to someone else.

But ideas aren't. If you blab your idea and someone else takes it and actually writes the story, that story is 100% theirs. But ever since 1989, the very moment you write words on a page, those words belong to YOU and copyright protection is extended to you without having to apply for it or pay for it.

More Information About Copyright Protection


Many authors believe that you have to register your work to get copyright protection. Prior to 1989 this was actually true but any work written after March 1, 1989, is automatically protected. The author owns the copyright rights to any creative written work unless he or she has already given/sold the rights to another person (this is common with ghost writing and Internet content writing).

As long as the characters are original and not based on someone else's work, you own the copyright. This means that as a practical thing, you can write a novel or screenplay and then add the "Copyright © (year) by Jane Doe. All Rights Reserved." You can add that to your works without registering it, and you should since this works as a natural deterrent. This notice also helps you legally if a case comes out, so the person who stole your work can't claim "innocent infringement."

Innocent infringement won't get the offending thieves off the hook, but it can drastically reduce the amount of damages you can collect from how they profited off of your work.

How long does copyright protection last? This varies from nation to nation, but generally the length of copyright is the entire lifetime of the creator, plus an additional 50 years after death. So if you write a brilliant masterwork, don't worry, you'll collect royalties throughout your entire lifetime.

You can still register with the Library of Congress for an "official" registration of copyright, but you'll have to pay it and it won't offer one bit more of protection. In addition to that, you'll have to pay a filing fee. There's no reason for it, so don't do it.

Michael Moore Questioned on Copyright Laws

It's 2 Hours - But It's All You Want to Know on Copyright

In Copyright Conclusion


The fear of having your work stolen isn't one that you should join in on. Your work won't be stolen. One reason is that because it's so easy for an afflicted author to get compensated and take a publishing house down. The other part of it is that if the publishers like the book that much, it's far more profitable to simply sign you to a contract and a contract for all your future work.

Writing styles are very distinctive. Why in the world would a publishing company hire another person to take credit for your story, with that person not being able to replicate it, and the fear of getting caught, the bad publicity, etc? It doesn't make sense. If the company and/or agent likes it that much, they'll get it straight from you.

The only time you need to register for the copyright is once it's accepted for publication. Beyond that, enjoy the 1989 decision that gives authors the full amount of protection that they deserve for their creative work. Once it goes from your mind to the page, it is copyrighted.

So write and create without fear, and share what you have with the world!

So Any More Copyright Questions?

How did I do answering your questions about copyright rules and law?

See results

Comments on Copyright Rights? Feel Free to Ask or Comment!

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    • profile image

      Darcee VanMullekom 

      6 years ago

      I was wondering if i wanted to get a copyright does my novel have to be completed? Or will i have to keep reapplying when i add stuff....ok i think this may a dumb question! lol

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have often been inspired by events or situations with ideas for stories, as I’m sure many have. Though I have the imagination to come up with a premise, I lack the background and training to compose a sellable novel. Are these ideas marketable and if so, how?

    • mbrosius profile image


      7 years ago from Mid West

      Jerry, What about presentations? I create training programs based on my own best-practices. I've gotten copyrights on a few of them. Is this a waste of my money and time?

    • Jerry G2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerry G2 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Hey Jon,

      Graphic novels and comic books are afforded the same protection since they are an original piece of art. In that area there are certain circles who strongly promote cross-use of ideas which can result in a lot of similar or same characters appearing in different authors' works, but the copyright does apply to these ideas and stories.

      @ Billy - As I answered in the second section, nothing coming out of your mouth is ever protected because it's still only an idea at that point. Until it's actually in writing, you don't have any protections. As for the registering part - any work done on computers (which pretty much everything is nowadays) is time coded. An expert can see what written file on a computer was typed first based on the dating on those files. Lie detector tests are also normally acceptable evidence for these types of cases and contrary to popular belief - they're extremely hard to beat. Virtually impossible if you're not trained to be a professional liar. If the text is the same, then you can by writing style. A person's writing style can act like a fingerprint and experts can easily tell who the real original voice is versus who is trying to copy after having both individuals write several new pages. Consciously trying to mimic someone else's style doesn't work to fool experts - there's always a tell. I have no idea what you mean by "how not registering does not help." If you mean "why does registering not help," it's because having the typed file on your computer before it's sent anywhere is more than enough evidence to prove you had it first. Registering for an official copyright doesn't hurt, but it doesn't add any official protection you don't already have the moment you finish writing. And if another person has supposed evidence they wrote it first, and you can't prove you did because it's not on a computer or you didn't create any other records for some reason, then your registration won't protect you anyway and you're still out the money you spent to register it.

      So short answer again: if it's an idea you have no protection, so don't blab it. If you complete a full work on a computer, that should be enough, and keeping any type of record of your writing is more than enough. Burden of proof is on the accuser to prove beyond any doubt that you stole it from them.

    • profile image

      Billy Rivera 

      7 years ago

      whenevr i look up this question i still see the same flaw. it deosnt metter if it comes out of your mouth first because how can that be proven. thas all i want to know. how can it be proven that the work is yours first and not someone elses? in an effort to prove this i may throw it out the window since theres no strong evidence to justify that its my work originally. or someone that i fired can say that itis their story first. so please in detal explain how not registering does not help

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm wondering about original characters in regards to graphic novels/comic books. Are they afforded the same protection as literary characters, say if the creator has written out a full bio, drawn images of the character displaying his/her characteristics, etc.?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very concise and useful article for everyone to understand and to many this knowledge brings a lot of peace.

    • GeneriqueMedia profile image


      9 years ago from Earth

      Thank you. I've known the bulk of this information for a good while, but you are the first person to adequately explain it in laymans terms.


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