Should authors copyright their work?

Copyrights, patents, trademarks and other legal terms can be confusing for authors and those in creative professions. But it’s important to be aware of what they mean, where they apply and if / when they can help. If some of the sections in this post get a little too technical, step out for a breath of fresh air, hear some birds chirping (original sounds work better than mobile ringtones) and come back to complete it.

Let’s start off with the definitions.

What is a copyright / trademark / patent?

Patent:
A patent is the sole right over an intellectual property that prevents others from producing, using, selling or distributing an invention.
E.g. if you have invented a machine that can read people’s thoughts and document them in 10 different languages (with spell-check), the first thing you’d do it patent it.

Trademark:
Trademarks can be words, symbols, sound or any indicator that uniquely identifies an entity (either a person, an organisation, a company). It is used by the trademark owner to communicate the origins of a product or service to all its stakeholders (consumers, partners, general public). The symbols (R) and TM (or SM for services) used along with the image indicates registered and unregistered trademarks respectively.
E.g. Volkswagen, Google, Pepsi, Reebok, MBA Crystal Ball are all trademarks.

Copyright:
Re-phrased, it defines who owns the ‘right to copy’ the original as well as derivative works. If you are an author, this is the one that’s relevant for you.

All these rights are territorial, which makes it tough for those who have works, products or services that might have universal audience to enforce it across countries.

Fortunately with copyrights, there are a few things that make life easier compared to the other intellectual property rights (IPR) protection mechanisms.

– Like the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, a treaty that protects the rights across 162 countries. So you could file the copyright registration application in India and get legal protection in countries where you have a bigger market (like USA, UK, or any other country).
– Cost: It is relatively cheap to get copyright protection in India if you do it on your own. Of course, the expense goes up if you involve IPR consultants.
– Time: Compared to the time taken to register trademarks, copyright registration is relatively quicker.

Copyright: How much does it cost & how long does it take?

I’ve gone through the process of registering copyrights (independently without professional help) as well as trademarks (I hired an IPR consultant who charged a hefty fee). For the former, my registration fee (50 rupees, if I recall correctly, but it was not for my book) was less than the courier charge.

Within 3 months I had the copyright certificate in my hands. For registering the trademark (for my commercial venture MBA Crystal Ball), it took about 1.5 years and several thousand rupees in legal fees.

But as a paranoid author who’s extremely possessive about your work, what about basic question?

Do I really need a copyright for my book manuscript?

By default, as the creator of a manuscript you automatically gain the rights over your work. So, a formal copyright registration process isn’t mandatory. But in case, there is a situation where you need to prove ownership and the date of creation, having a legal document in your possession can be beneficial.

Apart from the challenge of getting published, for authors the other BIG issue is piracy.

In the good old days when manuscripts were hand-written, you could argue that your handwriting expert to compare. But computers and the internet have added an element of sophistication and complication that’s difficult to comprehend.

Do you really think the digital pirate (which his eye-patch and hooked hand sitting in his untraceable ship in the sea) is going to care two hoots about whether you have copyright protection? If he sees a significant commercial upside and a relatively lesser probability of getting handcuffs around their wrists, you’ll find your novel being copied for free download or being circulated for a profit.

The other way to think about it is, you know robbers may have tools to break into your home at night, but that shouldn’t stop you from locking the doors before your sleep. Many authors and publishers have proactively cracked down on erring torrent websites to plug (or at least reduce) the losses wherever possible.

What’s your view? For your manuscript, do you think it would make sense to go for a copyright?

Disclaimer: Posts on this site are for information only. They do not constitute legal advice.

37 Comments

  1. Jaikishan Hirani says:

    Thanks for your updates Sameerbhai. They really help.

  2. R-A-J says:

    Hey Sameer, nice n informative one.. few questions –

    can one copyright titles of book/ book name?

    If I copyright the name “Ranjith Raj”, is it different from “RanjithRaj” (without space)?

    How easy or difficult is the procedure of copyrighting names?

    How much will it cost?

  3. Sameer says:

    Raj,

    With book titles, you’d need a Trademark, not a copyright.

    And unlike copyrights, registering trademarks is a tedious, expensive process which I don’t think is needed when you are just starting off.

    If your book becomes a hit and you start a series with similar titles, you could think about trademark registrations later.

  4. Shilpa Kadam says:

    Hi,

    I’m looking for lawyers who have experience in dealing with copyright cases.
    I have written a non-fiction book. I have the manuscript ready. I haven’t approached any literary agent or a publisher yet. Since it is a non-fiction book most of the content was originally news and hence printed by newspapers. On the net I’ve researched a particular topic (law related) and written it in a story format (as in what happened next).
    I’ve made it interesting but yes because of it being non-fiction and law related many lines had to be used as it is from the original articles. For example what was defence lawyer’s arguments etc.
    I am not sure if I need to buy any kind of rights from the newspaper publishers. One of the newspapers (major source of reference) was bought over by some other publisher and then they re-started it with a new name and a new philosophy.

    Please advice.

    Regards

    Shilpa

  5. Sameer says:

    Hi Shilpa,

    I can’t recommend any lawyers and considering the legal topics that your non-fiction book focusses on, your knowledge of legal frameworks would be much better than mine.

    But what I can suggest is to look into the possibility of getting a simple permission from the newspaper that published it.

    Alternately, if the amount of text reproduced in your book is very small, a source attribution should work.

    Some copyright owners might ask for a re-publishing fee.
    If you get a publisher, they should be able to help you out with the process.

    If you get a publisher, they should be able to help you out with the process for all these scenarios.

    Btw, I know an agent who’s looking for non-fiction books with commercial potential. If you are interested, send across a query letter (Add QUERY in the subject) to: info at mbacrystalball dot com

  6. Shilpa Kadam says:

    Hey, Thanks a ton. Will mail. Yay…

  7. Vikas says:

    Hello Sameer,

    How to get this copyright thing done ? You have not told us the way.

  8. Sameer says:

    Vikas,

    The Copyright website has the details. Here are the direct links to the Copyright application workflow and checklist of documents.

  9. Aamrapali Bhogle Sonawane says:

    Hi Sameer,

    How important/relevant is it for debutant authors to get their manuscript copyrighted before sending it to publishers for perusal?

    And if the manuscript does get selected for publishing eventually, would the publishers’ legal team prefer to tackle all copyrighting matters by themselves? In such a case, if the manuscript is already copyrighted by its author, would it hurt the publisher’s ego to know this?

  10. Sameer says:

    Aamrapali,

    Whether to copyright a manuscript or not is completely the author’s decision.

    Publishers won’t care about it. And they will not do it before or after they publish the book. So, all in all, egos stay out of the picture.

    If ego-hurting is really at the top of your priority list, there are many more creative and effective ways 😛

  11. I V N vaibhav Reddy says:

    How can we get the copyright for our book independently as you mentioned above. The one I consulted asked me to pay 5,100Rs and wait for 16 months for the certificate. So, please help me sir.

  12. Sameer says:

    Vaibhav,

    Consultants will always be more expensive.

    If you manage it yourself, you can do it for a few hundred rupees. And you should get the certificate in 3-4 months.

  13. I V N Vaibhav Reddy says:

    Thanks for your response, but I would like to know the way we can copyright it our self. I mean, I would like to know “how” to copyright it independently. Please explain the procedure, bro.
    Thanks.

  14. Sameer says:

    Vaibhav, if you scroll back up in the comments section, in my response to Vikas you’ll find the links to the official copyright website.

    It explains the ‘how’ part, including the procedure and set of documents needed.

  15. Sammeer says:

    Hi Sameer,

    The Copyrighting cost is Rs 500 and the only office for same is in Parliment Street,New Delhi.

    Process is fairly straight forward if you own the rights. One just go with a DD of Rs 500 with the 2 copies of the manuscript the person there would hand over the form to you which you need to fill up.

  16. Digbijay says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I want to self publishing an ebook. I am novice to copyright law and self publishing ebooks.

    I have 2 queries:

    1. As copyright registration takes minimun 2 to 3 months; shall I register for copyright after the publication of my ebook? Is it safe? What would you advice?

    2. Can I use the copyright declaration in my ebook before I register for copyright?

    3. Is there different forms or formalities and / or fees for copyright registration for pre-published and post-published work?

    Thanks
    Digbijay

  17. Sameer says:

    @Sammeer: Thanks for sharing this data.

    @Digbijay: You can copyright it anytime you want. You own the rights by virtue of being the creator. So you can use the copyright declaration in the ebook anyway. The process is the same for both – published and unpublished work.

  18. Shivam Saxena says:

    Hi Sameer
    I have written a book on Finance. The strategies given in it are new to the field. So shall I got a copyright or a patent?
    Does the finance field qualifies under literary works?

  19. Sudesh Kumar says:

    Hi Sameer,

    i recently completed my novel. it’s a fiction. i have few questions. I’ll be glad if you would answer. i am trying to get an agent but some of them are asking for my full mss and i am afraid it can be steal. please tell me is there is any risk to send full mss and my one more ques is can’t i direct send my mss to publishers like penguin india, west land or rupa publication. and I’ll be pleased if u tell me something about self publisher Partridge. is it a right dicision to publish with them if i couldn’t get an agent.

  20. @Sudesh: With reputed publishers (like the ones you’ve listed), the risk is low.

    And to answer your second query, yes it’s ok to approach them directly.

  21. kavipriya says:

    Sameer,

    I am an author, working on my maiden novel.
    I am working on the manuscript and I have employed a proof reader. My manuscript is not complete yet.

    Am reluctant to handover the manuscript to the proof reader, as I only know her online. I want to be on the safer side and signed a non-disclosure document with her, exchanging ID proofs as well.

    Please answer my queries below:

    1) Whether it is fine to get my manuscript copyrighted right away, with whatever I have? or should I wait for the final draft from my end?
    2) How long will it take to get the manuscript’s copyrights?
    3) If I get the manuscript copyrighted now, and If have many changes in the book later, before publishing, the copyrights is still valid right?

    Is http://copyright.gov.in/ the right site? to get my manuscript copyrighted?

    Thanks a lot!

    Regards,
    Kavipriya

  22. @Kavipriya: The website URL is correct.

    Getting a copyright for the final version is more efficient. The issue is it’s very difficult to now which one will be the final version. Either ways, folks who want to steal your intellectual property will do it irrespective of the technicalities.

    So, stop worrying about those aspects and make your work and your own name bigger than the impact piracy could have.

  23. Deepak says:

    I am working in court, and I wrote one questionnaire about the procedure and work of court business in Marathi and published it by my Karmachari Sanghatna for my local colleague, but now, I want published it Privately with copyright. whether it is possible. What type of efforts are expected.

  24. Mehriz says:

    Hello,
    Your page is very informative. i am independently publishing my first novel, i am the youngest writer of my city, little worried because i want my book should be copyright but i have to publish my book after 2 months. copyright process may be a bit lengthy. basically i have 2 things to do. first is to get ISBN number second copyright for my book.
    Now can you please guide me whether i should complete both the things or i just publish my book later on i can get all the things done with my 2nd edition?

  25. shail says:

    did you copyright your manuscript before publish and where can i copyright in india.

  26. Tanu says:

    Hello Mr Sameer
    I wrote a book few years back (when I was not in job).
    But now I have been a full time employee. Due to being a full time employee if I apply now for copyright now – will I have copyright on that book.
    Pls advise.
    Thanks and best regards
    Tanu

  27. sangeet nilam borah says:

    Sir, I am an indian author and in process to self publish my book through smashword. But first and foremost I want to register the copyright of my unpublished novel before going through with publishing. But as I have encountered in the copyright application format clause 3, there is a requirement to notify other people who might have an objection to my copyright. Here, since I am an independent author of my original work, I find this clause inapplicable on my case . What should I do.

  28. SKS says:

    I published a book in 2010 and gave the copyrights to the publisher. Is there anyway to get the rights back. The publisher says that he is not selling even a single copy. The publisher is based in India and Singapore.

  29. Ajit says:

    Hello,
    I want to publish my book and also wants to get it copyrighted. One doubt is cleared by reading the above comments that I can apply for a copyright even before publishing the book.
    I would like to know if while applying does the content needs to be in its final form (Ready to publish) ?. Can I just send printouts of partial content and apply for copyrights ?

  30. Pravin gupta says:

    Please help me its urgent
    I am independent writer from a small city and I am writing a motivational book . it’s my first book and I don’t know about registration , copyright ,trademark ,anything . I have also give examples of great man’s their success stories ,quotes in my book . this stories i have read in newspapers and on internet social media also and I don’t know where I read the same incident . should I take any permission for them .
    Also I want to publish it soon .
    A book is also registered of the same name but different subject on 30-11-14 .can I get same title for my book.
    I know that the copyright process takes too much time (atleast 6 months) so I want to register at least title before publishing it.

  31. Md Tanveer Ahme says:

    Assalamalykum Sameer Bhai i am From Karimnagar telangana dist i am writing an ebook and book so i need to copyright for It can you plese suggest me a solutions for that

  32. Prof. Guruprasad says:

    Hi Sameer
    This is Prof. Guruprasad. I had written a book for a publisher way back in 2006 and from past 5-6 years I am not hearing anything form them. Nor I am getting my royalty. I spoke to them couple of times but in vain.

    The copyright is with them.
    And I want to write a new edition of the same.
    Other publishers are approaching me.
    Suggets as to what can I do.

    Thanks

  33. Indranil Majumdar says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I will not load you with questions already answered.

    I am an unknown Indian inventor who invented a life saving system and applied for a patent through a patent attorney in Calcutta in 2001. It cost me a bomb and after 6 years I received my patent in 2007 (Patent No. 201106). I didn’t have the funds to apply for individual patents in different countries or filing a PCT application. I am still maintaining the patent at a cost of 10K annually and the ideas of my design have been copied by Indian and foreign companies. I do not have the means of fighting it out at a court of law. I learnt my lesson, “A Lone inventor cannot protect his patent”

    Now after some 15 years since I filed my patent, I have written a book and want to publish it. I realize that getting a Copyright is nice but if ebooks of my work are pirated, I cant do anything. My queries to you are as follows:

    (a) You warned in some earlier blogs to be cautious of self publishing agencies who promise a lot but you get nothing. So I decided to find a book publishing company and publish the book, a paperback of some 300 pages at my cost ( its a fictional novel of the life of an inventor).

    (b) Then I plan to get an ISBN of my paperback from MHRD.

    (c) I still haven’t thought of the marketing strategy but after self publishing the book with an ISBN I may try to find a publishing house to market it.

    (d) As per your blogs, I would not apply for a copyright and only a mention of (c) Copyright by……….. at the start of the book is all that I wish to do for my first book.

    (e) Is this enough ? My book is not the works of Ruskin Bond, Chetan Bhagat, Vikram Seth or Jhumpa Lahiri.
    A simple book written in English by an unknown author, his first book

    Please guide me if I am on the right track

    rgds,

    Indranil

  34. Vasanth says:

    Hello sameer ji,

    Myself Vasanth.I am working as a calligraphy teacher for a group of schools.I wrote a book for improvement of handwriting with new ideas and techniques of my own..I want to sell the books..could u please mention me what are the formalities to be followed for the book copyrights..it is a manu script..I don’t have have any certification in calligraphy.But I wrote the book using my practical knowledge as I was a teacher..please give your valuable suggestion..

    Thank u sir

  35. Akshay Kumar says:

    Hello Sameer,
    I have written a story on my grandfather’s life, is it necessary to take
    copyright if I need to publish that story?

  36. bhishm sharma says:

    i have deposited rs 500 on copyright office website fortnight ago. now they are not showing my pending detail when searched through diary number. can anybody tell, what should i do.

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