The Basics of Copyright Law (for Self-Publishing Authors.)
by Elisabeth Wise
Legally protecting yourself as a self-publishing author is important and copyright law is a big
part of that protection. But it can be a difficult subject for self-publishing authors to navigate.
This quick article will break down what copyright is and what that means for you as a self-publishing author.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship fixed in a
tangible medium of expression. Works of authorship include literary, dramatic, musical, and
artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
Copyright covers both published and unpublished works; copyright protection exists from the
moment a work is created and fixed in tangible form. For example, a work is fixed when you
write it down or record it.
What this means for self-publishing authors
Copyright law protects not only your published books but your works in progress as well.
In other words, copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created and fixed in
tangible form and there is no formal action that a person needs to take to have copyright
protection. Formal registration enhances your copyright protections but it is not needed to have
the protection in the first place.
There are limitations on copyright. There are a multitude of things that copyright law does not
protect, including ideas, titles, names, short phrases, or slogans. For example, a company’s
slogan is not copyrightable, but it can receive a different form of protection, trademark
Works in the public domain are also not protected by copyright. Works in the public domain
include works published before 1925 because the copyright has expired and any work created by
a federal government employee or officer in their official capacity.
As the owner of a copyright, you have the exclusive right:
-To reproduce the work
-To create derivative works, such as translations, adaptations, sequels, and abridgments
-To distribute the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental,
lease, or lending
-To publicly perform the work
-To publicly display the work
-To publicly perform the work by means of a digital audio transmission if the work is a
Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. For anonymous or
pseudonymous works, copyright protection is 95 years from publication or 120 years from
creation, whichever is shorter. If the legal name of the author is identified in the records of the
Copyright Office, then the term of the copyright will be the life of the author plus 70 years. If the
work is a joint work, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author’s death.
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