Book Copyright Explained

Copyright is defined by Miriam-Webster dictionary as “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (such as a literary, musical, or artistic work)”. Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and so much more! In this post we will concentrate on a book copyright overview.

An author has the copyright of their work in the instant it is written down or “fixed”. The author is defined as the person whose creativity led to the protected work being created.  The work must be recorded in some form. 

When you sell your work to a publishing company, you are selling your copyright. You are permitting that company to publish your work in a defined number of territories, languages, and mediums. In exchange for this, you earn royalties based on a percentage of sales. Often an author is given an advance on these royalties. You cannot then publish that work on your own and/or sell it to any other publisher with those rights. However, the publisher may only wish to purchase the right to publish in limited territories, languages, and formats (e.g. North American English hardcover), and you could then sell the additional rights to publish in other territories, languages, and formats to other publishers.

In Canada, a copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following the end of that calendar year. Therefore, protection will expire on December 31 of the 50th year after the author dies. In the United States and the United Kingdom, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. 

There are a few things that cannot be copyrighted: Ideas, including procedures, plans, processes, and systems. However, if a plan is written down, for example as a business plan, this does hold a copyright. Consider, if an entrepreneur has a method of operation for a new business, that method is not protected, but if she writes it down in the form of a business plan, the business plan document itself is protected. Facts and data are likewise not copyrightable, nor is the news. The written expression is subject to copyright but the news, itself, is not.

For book authors, it is important to note that titles and short phrases are not subject to copyright. This includes names, titles, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, and colouring; and lists of ingredients or contents. Other items that are not copyrightable are information already in the public domain, works made by the federal government, laws, and domain names.

For additional information on copyrighting your work in Canada, take a look at the website of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. In the US, the U.S. Copyright Office has some excellent resources.

Contact us to schedule a consultation to discuss any of your publishing questions. 

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