Vicki's Book News and Articles

Business: Copyrights

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

Q. I’ve had a number of books published, and I just learned my publisher isn’t copyrighting my books. They say I’m covered under the “automatic” copyright laws. Is this adequate protection for authors?

A. First, I’m not an attorney, but writer to writer, it’s my understanding that the automatic copyright does grant the author protection insofar as ownership is concerned. Where the author can run into trouble–which has happened recently–is on the recovery of damages.

Without the formal copyright, which cost last check $30, the author can suffer financial loss that can’t be recovered. The dollar amount is extremely limited, whereas if the author has copyrighted the work (or the publisher has done so on the author’s behalf), then the recovery dollar amount increases substantially.

Often this doesn’t present a challenge. But in some cases, legal fees alone can make prosecuting violations unfeasible.

Due to the dynamics of this business, the laws are under constant scrutiny by author-advocate watch groups such as the Author’s Guild, and, with the revolution occurring (largely due to the Internet and E-publishing industry), those laws are being updated and amended, but when changes occur so quickly and amending law grows enormously more complicated, it’s hard to keep up.

Many publishing contracts no longer state that the publisher will copyright the work, but that it “may” copyright the work. If the contract hasn’t yet been negotiated, my policy is to strike the “may” and insert “shall.” In cases where it had been negotiated and the book has been published, I’d copyright it myself.

There’s a site on the web which has all the needed information; it’s not a complicated process. And in my humble opinion, it’s worth the investment.

Something you might want to check out: if your publisher does projects wherein it owns the copyright, are those registered? Easy enough to check at the Library of Congress online.

My writer’s thinking on this is simple: publishers employ expert, literary attorneys–often a number of them. If they copyright works where they carry ownership, then there is undoubtedly merit in doing so that exceeds the $30 costs. Otherwise, they’d trim the bottom line.

Now $30 seems insignificant until you look at how many books a publisher publishes. For example, let’s look at Silhouette. (I’m going from memory on the number of books published in the individual lines, so they might not be accurate, but it’ll still illustrate my point.)


Intimate Moments: 6
Special Edition: 6
Romance: 4
Desire: 6
Single title: 1 (average)
Special Series: 2

Now we’re looking at 25 books per MONTH @ $30. That’s $750 per month, or $9,000 per year. In the case of this company, remember that it’s under the same umbrella of Harlequin (and Mira) who puts out another 40 or so books per month.

If a company averages publishing 65 books per month, and copyrights all of them, then they must budget $23,400 per year for copyrights. Not to mention paying overhead of preparing the documentation, shipping and all that goes with it.

So if a company’s rights are protected sufficiently without copyrighting, it is in the company’s best interest not to do so. As you can see, not doing so is fiscally advantageous to them.

And those–to them–are the key words. Their rights are sufficiently protected. But are the author’s?

Again, take a stroll through the Library of Congress and see if series books owned by publishers are copyrighted. The ones I checked were. And so long as the best publishing legal minds feel it’s warranted for the publisher, I’ll feel it’s warranted for the writer.


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