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Copyright Registration for Literary Works

Literary Works Defined

You've written what you hope is the next award-winning collection of poems. Whether you are choosing to self-publish or use a more traditional method, the next important question is, do you need a copyright for your literary work? The answer is, most likely.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a "literary work" can be just about anything that has been produced in written format. For instance, a steamy romance novel you penned while in college (fiction), your memoir describing your death-defying hike through the Pacific Crest Trail (nonfiction), or even a rousing speech you wrote for a friend who is running in a hotly contested city council race.

Having a copyright affords you important legal protections. If you have a literary work and want to gain copyright protection, follow these steps to register your book, manuscript, online work, poetry, or other text with the U.S. Copyright Office. For more information, see FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

Step 1

Make sure your work is a literary work. Literary works may be published or unpublished and include nondramatic textual works with or without illustrations. Computer programs and databases also are considered literary works. More examples of literary works include speeches, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy, games, and automated databases.

To register serials and periodicals, see the Serial Works section.

Step 2

Put into one envelope or package:

1. A completed application Form TX or Short Form TX;

2. A fee payable to "Register of Copyrights."

3. Nonreturnable copy(ies) of the material to be registered. For example:

  • Unpublished Works: One complete copy.
  • Published Works: Two complete copies of the best edition.
  • Works First Published Outside the U.S.: One complete copy of the first foreign edition.
  • Contribution to a Collective Work: One complete copy of the best edition of the collective work, or a copy of the contribution itself as it was published in the collective work

Step 3

File Electronically

Save yourself some hassle. Save yourself time. Save yourself postage. File your copyright application online. It's easier than having to trek down to the post office and you'll likely get a quicker decision from the government.

However, if you prefer to send your application in the mail, pull out your book of stamps and send the package to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

Your registration becomes effective on the day that the U.S. Copyright Office receives your application, payment, and copy(ies) in acceptable form. If your submission is in order, you will receive a certificate of registration in 4 to 5 months.

For more details about copyright, please see the U.S. Copyright Office's information circulars.

Have a Legal Professional Assist You With the Application

Hiring a lawyer to prepare and submit your application is a wise choice. As an author, you'll want to spend your time writing, editing, and revising your work. Leave the legal heavy lifting to a professional. Speak to an intellectual property attorney in your area now.

Next Steps
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