How to copyright a book?

➡️  Copyright is the legal right you have to your own work. When you create a piece of work, it can’t be copied, reproduced, or published in any way without your permission.

➡️  In the UK, you don’t need to formally register copyright to your work. There isn’t a list of copyright works, so you don’t need to apply for copyright protection for your book in the UK.

➡️  Some services will allow you to pay to register your book for copyright. However, you don’t have to sign up with them to claim copyright infringement.

When you’ve spent months (or years) drafting, proofreading, and editing your novel, the last thing you want to think about is your story being pinched before it’s published. After all, you didn’t spend all that time writing and polishing your manuscript for someone else to take the credit. So it’s understandable that you’re looking for some guidance on how to copyright a book.

For writers heading down the traditional publishing route, this is usually taken care of. But for self-published authors, protecting your rights as the author of your book is something you need to consider before you go to print.

What is copyright and how does it work in the UK?

Copyright is the legal right you have to your own work. When you create a piece of work - written, drawn, printed or otherwise - it can’t be copied, reproduced, or published in any way without your permission. If you choose to give permission for someone else to use your work, this is known as licensing. For example, authors can license their book out via a publisher, allowing the publisher to print and sell the book on their behalf. Copyright protects a book for the entirety of the author’s life, and up to 70 years after their death.

In the UK, you don’t need to formally register copyright to your work. Unlike other types of intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, the government doesn’t keep a list of works that are subject to copyright. That means you don’t need to apply for copyright protection for your book in the UK. (This varies from country to country - but more on international copyright a little later.)

How much does it cost to copyright a book?

Because there’s no formal process for registering copyright in the UK, copyright protection is totally free. This is also true for EU countries - there’s no centralised record of copyright works, and most EU countries don’t require you to register your book for copyright. If you want to add your book to other international copyright registers, you may need to pay a fee. In the US, for example, online copyright registration costs around $35.

For most UK-based self-published authors, this is great news - your rights are protected, and you don’t have to pay anything for the privilege. Since UK copyright law bans people from using your work without your say-so, nobody can perform any so-called “restricted acts” with your work.

What are restricted acts in UK copyright law?

Writers - whether self-published or traditionally published - have the legal right to be identified as the author of their work. As well as this, when it comes to any self-published book, it’s an offence in the UK for anyone except the author to:

  • Copy the book
  • Issue copies of the book
  • Publicly perform, display or read the book
  • Adapt the book

You can find the full list of restricted acts in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

On the flip side, certain exceptions to copyright exist to allow people to read and engage with your work in a non-commercial way. For example, it’s permissible for people to use your book for:

  • Non-commercial research and private study
  • Automated data mining for analysis of textual patterns & trends
  • Criticism, review and reporting of current events
  • Teaching
  • Adapting it for the benefit of someone with a disability
  • Parody, caricature and pastiche

These exceptions could actually increase the readership of your book, since it makes copyright work more accessible for people. It’s win-win for self-published authors.

How can I copyright a book in the UK?

In theory, you don’t need to do anything to copyright your book - it’s automatically protected by UK copyright law. This means you can send your book out to editors, agents and illustrators without fear of your work being plagiarised. If your work is unceremoniously pilfered, you can claim for copyright infringement through the courts.

However, it’s worth noting that there are very few cases where anyone in the literary industry would consider stealing your work - they’re much more likely to make money by legitimately working with you on your book.

If you want to prove your authorship beyond a doubt, you can use the © symbol on your manuscript and your published book to demonstrate this. Using this symbol doesn’t add any legal clout to your claim to copyright, but it can be helpful in showing your intent to claim copyright protection (and ward off any potential infringement).

Should I register my self-published book with a copyright service?

Although there are some services that will allow you to pay to register your book for copyright, these aren’t government-mandated, and you don’t have to sign up with them to claim copyright infringement. They may help if an infringement claim crops up - for example, they can provide evidence of your copyright claim to a certain piece of work on a certain date. But if someone else disputes your claim, it’s down to the courts to decide who the work belongs to.

Do I need to copyright my book before self-publishing?

No - your work is automatically protected by copyright from the first draft to the finished book. This doesn’t change when you publish it.

Many self-published authors publish their work through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site. In some instances - usually if a book has been published either in part or in its entirety elsewhere - KDP will ask for proof that you have publishing rights for your work. If you’ve worked with another publisher previously, you should have a document that states they have non-exclusive publishing rights to your book, or that their publishing rights have expired. If you have a valid, exclusive publishing agreement in place with another publisher, KDP may reject your manuscript. You can find out more about KDP’s copyright guidelines here.

It’s important to note that when you publish a book through KDP - or any ebook platform - you’re not relinquishing your copyright claim. You’re effectively licensing them to publish and issue your work. In return, they take a percentage of the money you earn from your book through their platform. You can unpublish your book at any time, which removes KDP’s right to issue your work.

How do I copyright a book in the USA and internationally?

The UK belongs to a variety of treaties which are designed to preserve your copyright protection across the world. The Berne Convention is the most comprehensive of these. It offers similar copyright protection to that which already exists in UK copyright law. There are only a handful of countries that aren’t signed up to at least one of these treaties, including Iran, Iraq, and Eritrea.

If you want to register copyright for your book in the USA specifically, the process is a little different. As in the UK, your work is protected by copyright as soon as you create it - but unlike the UK, the US government keeps a register of all copyright work. In the event that someone plagiarises your work, if it isn’t registered, you can’t sue for infringement. As a result, if you’re planning to market your book to a US readership, you may want to consider applying for copyright protection in the US via their online government portal.

How can I create a copyright page for my self-published book?

If you’re a reader as well as a writer, you’ll know that it’s commonplace in literature to have a copyright page at the front of your book. Although a copyright page isn’t strictly necessary, it goes a long way to making your book look more professional. It also confirms your intent to claim copyright and publication rights over the book, and discourages plagiarism or infringement.

As a minimum, your copyright page should include the copyright symbol (©), your name, and the first year of publication. You can also include a blurb to acknowledge your copyright rights. This could simply read All rights reserved, or it could include a further statement for clarity. If you want to allow people to contact you with requests for using or licensing your work, you can include an email address.

There are plenty of online templates available to help you write a clear, concise copyright page. If you’re still unsure about what to include, you can find some copyright page text examples below to guide you.

Example copyright page for your book

Feel free to copy, modify, and use these copyright page examples as you see fit, no credit required. We won’t sue you - promise.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without prior written permission from the author, with the exception of non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, except as permitted by UK copyright law or the author. For licensing requests, please contact the author at me@email.co.uk.
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, copied, distributed or adapted in any way, with the exception of certain activities permitted by applicable copyright laws, such as brief quotations in the context of a review or academic work. For permission to publish, distribute or otherwise reproduce this work, please contact the author at me@email.co.uk.

Read more about self-publishing your book

It can be difficult to navigate the world of self-publishing, especially for first-time authors. If you’ve found this information on how to copyright a book useful, our advice pages cover a huge range of subjects to help you get to grips with prepping your book for publication.

From budgeting to marketing to book cover design, find out more about self-publishing your book here.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and we're not legal advisor. Always carry out your own due diligence.

Advice from a published writer
This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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