As a writer, knowing the basics of copyright law can help you protect your writing before signing your rights away. Copyrighting your books, stories, novels, and poems is rather straightforward. Whether your work is on paper or posted on the Internet, your writing is automatically protected by copyright as long as it’s in a physical form that others can read. The fact that you are reading these words means that this material is copyrighted and has been since the moment it was printed or saved to disk. For today’s creative writers, copyright protection is a built-in bonus.

Copyright is a form of protection for creative and original works (literary, musical, artistic, among others) that are fixed in a “tangible form of expression.” This simply means that what you’ve created—whether it’s a sketch, a sculpture, a short story, or a poem—is intellectual property, and it is protected by copyright as long as it can be viewed (or communicated) in a fixed form. It is intended to protect, among other artistic works, literary work, both published and unpublished, giving the author the exclusive, legal right to copy and distribute the work. No one, including literary agents or editors, is allowed to copy, distribute, display, or sell copyrighted work without permission.

Some writers believe that mailing their manuscripts to themselves is a theft-protection plan against anyone who would steal their creative writing. The misconception is that an unopened envelope with a canceled postmark will have some legal status in the courtroom, but this is simply not the case.

Anyone who creates an original creative work may claim copyright. However—and this is unclear for many writers—you do not have to do anything to secure a copyright for your work. Once the words you are reading are down on paper or saved to your hard drive (fixed in a tangible form of expression), they are automatically protected by copyright and immediately become the property of the author. What you write today will be protected for the length of your life, plus at least 70 years.

So why would a writer formally copyright his or her projects if it’s not necessary? By filing for copyright protection, you would be entitled to legal fees in the event that you were sued regarding the work but won the case. Unless you’re worried about lawsuits, a formal copyright may be overkill.

If you do decide to register with the Copyright Office, you’ll find it an easy process. If you want the facts of your copyright on public record, take the time to officially register. You’ll need to pay a fee, fill out a simple form (depending on the type of work you are registering), and send a copy of your work. For the most current fee schedule and other how-to guidelines, call (202) 707-3000, or go to

Learn more: What Is Considered Previously Published Writing?

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice: for questions about copyright law specifics, contact a lawyer. To find out how we can help you get your work published by managing the submission process, call Writer’s Relief today!

This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.


Protecting Your Writing (Copyright)

These are sites with useful information on what you need to know in order to protect your writing and different copyright laws.

Protecting Your Writing (You can download a free book)

Copyright Basic FAQ

Copyright Protection

What is Copyright?

10 Myths About Copyright Explained