When you’ve written something, it is automatically covered by a creative copyright. That is because it is your work and not the work of someone else. As long as you can show that it is original work, then no one can steal your work and call it their own.
Knowing how to copyright written material can give you an extra level of protection if you happen to have a claim that needs to be filed. Filing for a copyright creates a public record for your work with a specific date. This allows you to show a court during a claim that you are indeed the author of record for the written material.
There is only one exception: if you and another writer simultaneously create similar works at the same time. In this instance, the copyright for the work would be shared.
Here are the steps to take if you want to copyright your written materials today.
#1. Know if your written work can have a formal copyright.
Copyright laws in the United States are based on what is referred to as “original works of authorship.” This means there are certain literary works which may not qualify for a formal copyright because they are intended for consumption by the general public.
Others are allowed to use certain written works for various purposes. This includes critical items, commentaries, journalism, and research work.
There are some other written works that are forbidden from having a copyright assigned to them. You can copyright a specific written work, but you cannot copyright an idea. Concepts, principles, and discoveries cannot be copyrighted either.
This is a distinction that can be confusing to some writers. Let’s say you’ve written something that describes a new system for applying for copyrights. You would be able to copyright the description of the system, but not the system itself.
#2. Create a written work that can be reproduced.
As long as you write down your written work somewhere, you will have the ability to copyright that work. The only exception to this rule would be for writers who dictate by voice notes to themselves or create other audio recordings. Because it is an audio or video item and not a written work, it cannot be copyrighted as a written work until it is printed on paper or uploaded into a computer or onto the internet.
#3. Complete the copyright application.
In the US, there is an online application that can be filled out with the US Copyright Office. Other countries have a similar office and application process. You can also fill out a copyright application on paper and mail it or fax it to the copyright office.
When you fill out the application, you’ll be asked a series of questions about your work. You will also be required to guarantee that it is an original work, that you are the author of that work, and provide a copy of the work.
#4. Make the payment.
For a written work, the standard copyright cost is between $35-$55 in the United States. Once you’ve filled out the application and submitted your work, it will generally take 6-8 months for the copyright to be issued.
The US Copyright Office also offers what is called a “Specialized Registration.” The cost of registering this expedited copyright can be as much as $400. It decreases the time it takes to receive the copyright from 6-8 months to 6-8 weeks or faster, but is based on the current workload at the office.
Until you have official confirmation of the copyright, your works are covered by the “fixed” copyright that is assigned to all written works – including those that are unpublished. Since 1989, no copyright notice is required for this fixed copyright to be in effect. It automatically applies during the lifetime of the individual and for a period of several decades after their death.
Works that are published in the US are presumed to have a copyright unless the author specifically states that the work is for public use.
Knowing how to copyright written material can help support a claim being made if you feel that someone has stolen your work for their own gain. Otherwise a copyright may be a needless expense for many authors since works are automatically copyrighted once they are put into a state that can be reproduced.
Decide if this is a process you need to follow today for your work, follow the steps above, and you’ll be able to get the right form of copyright you need for your written material.