Anatomy of a Copyright Page

copyrightIndie publishing is full of learning experiences. One of them involves what to put on the copyright page of your book. (The copyright page, to be clear, is the page on the flip side, or verso, of the title page at the very beginning of your book.)

People put all sorts of junk on this page, but really, there is only one thing that’s pretty much required to be there: your copyright notice.

I’m going to digress for a moment and talk about copyright, because I’ve seen some bad info floating around the interwebs. As the creator of the work in question, you hold the copyright. Period. You can fill out a form and pay $35 to register your copyright with the U.S. gummint, or you can do any of the other things I’ve seen mentioned (e-mailing a copy of the work to yourself, mailing yourself a hard copy, etc.), but none of them are required. They will not grant you the copyright to your own work. You already own it.

There are certain specific situations in which you would not own the copyright to work you produce – if you’re writing for a newspaper, say, or ghostwriting someone else’s memoirs. But if you’ve written a novel out of your own head, you automatically own the copyright on that novel, and you don’t have to do anything special to claim it. Got it? Okay. Let’s move on.

Joel Friedlander over at the Book Designer has written a great article on the copyright page and what it traditionally includes. In it, he says there’s only one thing that absolutely, positively needs to be on that page: a line containing the word “copyright” or the symbol ©, the year of publication, and the name of the copyright holder. For my next book, mine will read:

Copyright 2014 by Lynne Cantwell

That’s it. That’s all you need.

Joel goes on to mention a bunch of other legalese that publishers usually put on that page: their physical address, the edition number (if the book has more than one), the book’s ISBN, Library of Congress cataloging information, that “this is a work of fiction and it’s a coincidence if any of the characters remind you of the author’s ex-husband” thing, any crunchy-granola “printed on recycled paper” notices (which doesn’t apply to an ebook, of course), and so on.

I also use that page to give credit for the images I used in making the cover, which Joel says is a nice thing to do. You might also credit your editor on this page, but I save that for the author’s note at the back of the book.

The Smashwords Style Guide has a paragraph of DRM-related language that you can copy and paste into your eBook’s copyright page. Basically, it asks readers not to rip off the author by passing out free copies to all and sundry. I always include it in my eBooks, but of course I take it out when I do the paperback version.

The Smashwords Style Guide also suggests you list your “other books by” info on this page, complete with hyperlinks to those books at Smashwords. You can do the same for the Kindle version (swapping out the Smashwords links for your Amazon links!). Or you can put this info in the back of your book with your bio. Or, hey, both. It’s up to you.

One more thing: if you ever have any intention of submitting your books to a library, I direct you to this terrific post written by Laura Carruba, a librarian who happens to be a friend of my daughter Kat. Laura says that if your copyright page includes the publisher’s name and location, copyright date, and ISBN – and if you pay attention to her other tips about formatting your hard-copy books – the cataloging department at your local library will love you forever.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

25 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Copyright Page”

  1. OK, I gotta say here. Mailing yourself a copy is absolutely worthless for any purpose whatsoever. Placing a copyright notice is absolutely worthless.
    Registration allows you to take legal action if your rights are infringed. It doesn’t matter if you own the copyright if you can’t enforce it. And unless it’s registered, you can’t enforce it.
    Here’s the big kicker… you can’t take people to court without a registered copyright, it takes time to register, it’s very possible for your window of opportuni9ty to sue will expire before you get the registration completed, a “hurry up” registration costs hundreds of dollars.
    So if you’re concerned about your rights, $35 is cheap. And most people here know I am a big advocate of not dumping money into putting books out.
    One thing you can do is bundle up a bunch of books into one document and registering the copyright for the whole works at once.

    1. I agree with Lin here on the legal stuff. If you believe you’ve been infringed upon, you have no legal recourse if you haven’t registered the work. So, the vested copyright you have when you create the work seems pretty worthless, if you can’t stop people from using your work based on it.

      As an aside, it wasn’t until about about a week after I published my second novel that I realized I hadn’t registered the copyright on it. However, since it was a sequel, I had some copyright protection based on the first novel (because the characters were the same; people can’t create derivative products using someone else’s characters without securing copyright permission/licensing first. Star Wars and similar franchises make the big bucks this way)

      1. Which gets over to trademarks, which are a different deal and I (like most writers) don’t know much about them. One thing I do know though, you can’t copyright a title, but you CAN trademark it. So you can’t write a book called “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” or whatever

  2. The same applies in Canada. Copyright is automatic, but registering it gives you some documentation if you ever have to resort to the courts. I believe it’s well worth it.

    For those of us north of the border, the cost is C$50 if filed electronically, C$65 otherwise. It’s done through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Here’s the link to the guide and application.

    Thanks Lynne.

  3. Reminds me of that old KISS acronym teachers would say (Keep it Simple, and I won’t say the last S). Copyright pages are a necessary formality. Thanks for the post on just how simple it can be.

  4. I think the laws vary from country to country, too. And I also think we can get very wrapped up in paranoia and that’s why we make it so complicated when it really does us no good. I have a feeling that would be enough in Canada, too, though maybe I shouldn’t talk off the top of my head.

    1. If you find out what the rules are in Canada, Yvonne, let us know. I suspect you’re right, though, that they’re very much the same.

  5. Many thanks, Lynne, for this info! I’ve always wondered what HAS to be on this page and what is optional. *Goes off to find IU notebook…

  6. I registered my book with the copyright office and then, before publishing, added two words to the title. I haven’t re-registered. I don’t know whether it’s essential because most of the previous title is intact. Does it have to be exact? The story is pretty specific and personal, but perhaps parts of it could be illegally copied and used by others if so inclined.

    1. You’re copyrighting the text, not the title, so you don’t have to do anything. You can’t copyright titles anyway, so the fact that you’ve changed yours has no bearing on the copyright you’ve obtained.

      If someone copied your book pretty much verbatim and titled it, My Super Cool Magical Mystery Opus, you could sue them for infringement because they stole your work. It’s the body of work that you’d be suing over, not the title.

      Also, you own the copyright on the text, so you, as the copyright owner have the right to use that copyrighted work in other material, or repackage it in other works. Being the rights owner gives you permission to use your own work (even if it is titled something different) and sue others who use that work without your permission.

      So, don’t worry about the title being different than what’s on the copyright. If you want, you could make a note that the book was previously published under your original title, but I don’t even know that that’s necessary. If you had to sue someone, your attorney might tell you you have to use the same title you used on your copyright form in the actual lawsuit text, but it wouldn’t change what you’d be suing the person for copying, as –whatever it’s titled–the text on file at the copyright office has been used without your permission.

      The only time you need to change things, at the copyright office is if you’ve made substantial changes to the text (by substantial, they mean addition of new chapters or deletion of sections; a little copyediting for typos is not considered substantial). When you do that, I think they just recommend you file for a new copyright, rather than try to amend the old one.

      Hope that helps.

    2. 1. Don’t worry about it. You aren’t protecting the title. In fact you CAN’T protect the title. You are protecting the content. And small changes don’t affect that much. Think about it, if changing a few words lost you protection, why couldn’t a plagiarist just change a few words to rip you off legally? Not to worry.
      2. Not to worry in general. VERY few writers have their work plagiarized.
      You’re fine.

  7. The professional copyright page is a clear warning to anyone who might look to abuse the work of the author. If the author pays the $35 to officially protect their work, as I always do, the next level of protection is there should there be infringement.
    This post and comments are a good warning to new authors. Thanks, Lynne.

    1. Thing is, though… it’s not. Especially in a time when most infringements are electronic, and many on pirate sites that are pretty impossible to act against.
      People aren’t scared or warned off by a copyright notice. It means nothing, really. Anybody can slap a circle C on something. It’s not like people think, “I should knock this off. Oh, wait, no it’s got a copyright warning on it. Aiyeee!”
      Basically, it’s a pro-forma thing, like the “everything is strictly co-incidental” stuff you no longer see very often, and which was never any legal protection whatsoever.
      The main function of copyright blurb in your book is actually more like about making it look “non-amateur” if it’s not there.
      If you want protection, register. The chances of anybody reading this site getting infringed are virtually zero, by the way.

    2. You’re welcome, Lois. 🙂

      Unfortunately, Lin makes a good point about the likelihood of someone infringing on one of our copyrights. Most indies aren’t high-profile enough to be a target.

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