In many countries, the copyright of your manuscript is yours the instant you begin to create it. The copyright is granted based on your own authorship and does not require a publisher’s agreement, a self-publishing company to print it, or any other formal agreement. You are automatically the copyright holder.
In the US, one option you do have to reinforce this strength of your copyright is to register your manuscript with the US Copyright Office. What your registration of copyright does is create a public record of your work. This gives you an added level of security should someone try to steal concepts from your manuscript, giving you options within a court of law to pursue damages.
Here’s how to copyright a manuscript in the US so that you have the protection of a public federal registration for your work.
#1. Visit the US Copyright Office website.
You’ll be able to start your copyright registration by going directly to www.copyright.gov. Then all you need to do is click on the “Register a Copyright” link.
#2. Log into the eCO Registration System.
You will need to create an account if this is your first time registering a copyright online. You will need to disable any third-party toolbars and pop-up blockers in order to use the system properly.
#3. Choose the type of application you need to register.
You will be asked if you are registering one new original work, as the only author, and that it contains work created only by that single author. This will allow you to start the registration. Each question offers a “Yes” or “No” box that must be clicked.
#4. You will be asked to select the type of work being registered.
A drop-down menu box will need to be clicked so that you can select the type of work that you are registering for the copyright. In the instance of a manuscript, you would most likely choose “Literary Work.” Some manuscripts may quality as a “Single Serial Issue” depending on the subject matter.
#5. Enter the information about your work.
You will need to fill out the online form about your work. Click on the “New” button. This will allow you to input the title of your work for the registration process. You’ll then need to select “Title of work being registered” from the “Title Type” drop-down menu. Then click the “Save” button after you’ve submitted your title.
#6. Complete the rest of the form.
You’re going to be asked about the publication status of the manuscript. Unpublished manuscripts will still need to input the year the work was completed. There is also the opportunity to input your pre-registration number if you receive a prefix. Then enter the author information, copyright claimant information, and identify any pre-existing materials that were used within the work being registered.
#7. Fill out your rights and permissions.
Most copyright registrations will fill out this part of the form to have the US Copyright Office notify them of their application status. You can also choose to designate an agent who is able to grant permission to use your work. Then enter your mailing address and other required information so that your copyright certificate can be mailed.
#8. Decide if you need to have special handling.
If you have pending litigation on your work, are dealing with a customs matter, or have a contract/publishing deadline which necessitates an expedited certificate, then you can check these boxes to receive your copyright sooner. There is a significant fee included with this special handling process and it is non-refundable. Special handling requests may also be rejected based on the current workload of the Copyright Office at the time it has been made.
#9. Certify, review, and check out.
Once you’ve completed the form, you’re ready to certify that the application is accurate. You’ll be given a chance to review all of the information you put into the online form. Make any changes that you feel are necessary. Then you’ll need to check out, which can also be done from the form. You can pay with a deposit account, ACH transaction, or credit card.
A standard application filing fee for a US copyright is $55. If it is a single application, defined as being from the same author and claimant for one work, not for hire, then the fee is $35. This is if you file for the copyright online. Paper filing fees for all registrations are $85. Renewal registrations, if necessary, are $100.
The average amount of time to receive a standard application certificate is 6-8 months.