Copyright and a Case for Why We Should

Copyrights are always something in the forefront of our collective indie publisher minds. Should we or shouldn’t we, do we have to take special steps? This overview will focus on U.S. copyright laws but I would imagine that they are similar in other countries. Toward the end of this post we’ll look at a possible copyright infringement that hits a little too close to home.

Under current law, a copyright exists as soon as an original work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. You own the copyright to your work as soon as you write it down or save it on your computer. More information can be found here.

How do you meet the test of “original work?” As one judge told it, “some spark of creativity…” meets that need. The important thing to remember for Indie writers is that copyright protection applies to both published and unpublished work.

There is a misconception that you have to mail yourself a hard copy of your work in order for it to be copyrighted. Also, as of March 1, 1989, it is no longer necessary to use a © mark on your work, however, when publishing, you will typically include it as part of the front matter of the book.

In order to have a proper copyright notification, it should have three things: the copyright symbol © or the word copyright, the name of the author and the year.

“So, do I have to register my copyright with the Library of Congress?”

The best answer is no, unless …

I recently went through this process. An “A” list author recently published a novel with a very similar cover to my novel, The Card. My novel has original artwork—a hand drawn baseball, field and stadium. I know this because my wife did the artwork. I worked with a graphic designer to put together the cover with the original artwork. The Card had spent months at #1 on the Kindle Bestseller list in the baseball category prior to the new book hitting the shelves.

The Original
The Copy


When I contacted the appropriate people for possible infringement, I was asked if my work is copyrighted. Of course! I responded and showed them the little © symbol. Ah, but this is where the legality of the copyright breaks down.

While my work is inherently copyrighted, I cannot bring forward an infringement suit without having it copyrighted with the Library of Congress. I paid my $35 to “officially” copyright the work and sent two copies of the eBook. They were very happy to cash my check and then informed me that I would need to provide them with the “Best” version of the book for the Library of Congress. In other words, if I have a hard copy edition, then that would top the eBook version.

I’ve sent off the two copies of the hard copy and now I can proceed with the infringement case if I want. If it doesn’t go anywhere, at least I can say my book in now in the Library of Congress!

What’s your opinion. Do you see a similarity in the cover of the two novels?

Author: Jim Devitt

Jim Devitt’s debut YA novel, The Card, hit #1 in three separate categories on the Kindle Bestseller list in early January and was a finalist in the Guys Can Read Indie Author Contest this past summer. Devitt currently lives in Miami, FL with his wife Melissa and their children. Learn more about Jim at his blog and his Amazon author page.

18 thoughts on “Copyright and a Case for Why We Should”

  1. they don’t look enough alike that i would want to take on a plagerism/copyright infringement. Seriously, yours is the better cover; everything more focused…your wife makes good covers. But as to winning in a court of law, it might cost you more than it was worth.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I’ll let my wife know. Realistically, I didn’t think there was enough similarity to actually win a case, but it was a good lesson to go through and learn more about our rights.

  2. You’re shooting for a “confusingly similar” claim, where the second book was deliberately designed to look like your cover to ride on the coat tails of your success. I’d say that would be a difficult suit to win.

    1. Kevin, I agree, but it’s an interesting conversation and a great way to learn more about copyrights.

  3. While I loathe John Grisham as much as the next man, I think you just wasted $35 and two copies of your book.

    I have not bought or read either at this point in time, but your book has a much better cover. In fact, your book’s synopsis sounds more like a “good” Grisham novel than his does. His cover makes me think of light-hearted chick lit for some reason.

    1. Rich,

      I don’t think I wasted anything. While I didn’t expect it to go anywhere, I learned a little more about copyrights and I now have my hard copy in the Library of Congress… for whatever that’s worth. Thanks for the comments about the cover, I’ll pass them along.

  4. I didn’t even notice the baseball on Grisham’s cover the first time I looked at it. And I’m betting John Grisham can afford really good lawyers, so I doubt a copyright infringement lawsuit would go very far.

    That said…it would be pretty cool to have my books in the LIbrary of Congress. Hmm… Thanks for the idea, Jim. 🙂

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. LOC.

      I didn’t think that an infringement case would go far, but it was a good exercise in the process.

  5. I don’t know about your chances in a copyright suit, Jim, but the millage from the publicity wouldn’t go astray I’d say. By the way, I agree with the general consensus, your cover is much better.

    1. Thanks TD,
      I appreciate the comments about the cover. In the end, I didn’t even pursue the infringement, but it’s an interesting conversation.

  6. I must agree that I don’t see that they are similar enough for a successful suit, but I must also agree that yours is a much better cover anyway. Since I’ve read your book, and don’t have plans on reading Calico Joe, I’ll just assume you have the better book too :).

    I definitely believe that with online copyright registering only running $35, it’s a good investment just for the piece of mind that you are a little more protected. Unregistered copyrights typically don’t lead to winning lawsuits. I don’t anticipate ever finding myself taking someone to court for infringement on anything I write, but I don’t mind putting up $35 bucks to make sure I’m covered if something unfortunate did happen.

    1. Thanks Brian, I haven’t read Grisham’s either, but I think mines better!!

      More specifically, unregistered copyrights CAN’T lead to winning because that is necessary to bring any case to court.

      … and yeah, $35 is a small price to pay for piece of mind and for getting your work in the Library of Congress. Barnes and Noble may refuse to stock our work, but the Library of Congress won’t!

  7. The LOC has an on-line registration available also and you can upload digital copy of your book and cover. I register all of mine just in case.

    As to your possible suit, I really don’t see that they are enough alike to win, but one doesn’t know unless one tries. I could see it being a pretty expensive effort though.

    Keep us posted!

    1. Thanks for the comments,
      I didn’t actually pursue the case in the end, I had a couple of attorneys give me an interpretation, and although the covers were similar, we would have to prove intent.

      That is true about the LOC, however, if you have a hard copy available, they would insist on the hard copy being registered over the digital copy, as the hard copy is considered “the best version” of the book. So I guess the copyright office looks down there nose at digital copies still. If you only produce an ebook you would be good to go with the LOC.

  8. That’s interesting about needing a copyright with the Library of Congress to actually do anything about infringement. Doesn’t make much sense to me. I did the $35 thing for my first book but have been contemplating whether to bother with it again. Oh, and your cover is definitely the better on.

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