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Q&A: Tips on copyrighting your completed textbook

Q: “I have recently completed a textbook, and am searching for a publisher. Should I have the book copyrighted?”

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing & Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide:

“You can, or the publisher can do that for you in your name. The publisher typically pays the fee and sends two finished copies to the Library of Congress when the book is out. Request that the publisher register the copyright in your name, which is normal unless you have permanently assigned copyright to the publisher. My understanding is that in signing the publishing contract you do assign exclusive copyright use to the publisher (hopefully for a specified time rather than indefinitely), after which rights can revert to the author. However, an original work is ultimately, automatically, the property of its author or creator, which is a separate function from granting rights. It does seem confusing. Publishers typically do the paperwork and payment for registering the copyright, and a textbook often contains additional material and ancillaries that the publisher provides, and that may be why most textbooks have the publisher’s name on the copyright page. But, if I understand correctly, copyright ownership of the author’s content can be (and often is) registered in the author’s name (unless it is a work for hire), and the publisher usually will perform this service if asked. I believe we have attorneys on this list who can clarify this for us.”

A: Arthur & Elaine Rubin, AUTHORS & EDITORS:

“We respectfully disagree. Make sure the Copyright IS in your name. Best way to be sure is to do it yourself. Forms are online, fees are small, and you can do it yourself. Second best, and be sure you get full documentation, is to have a Publisher do it.”

A: Stephen E. Gillen, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“The norm in trade book publishing is for the author to retain the copyright and grant to the publisher an exclusive license to publish the work in book form and to exercise certain subsidiary rights (sometimes the license granted is broader and sometimes it is more narrow). The norm in educational publishing is for the publisher to be granted the copyright (and at lower levels in the curriculum the works are sometimes signed as works-for-hire), but it is possible and not uncommon for authors of educational works to negotiate to retain the copyright (this is perhaps more likely at a house that has both trade and educational imprints).

For most practical purposes, the grant of an exclusive license of indeterminate duration is not materially different from an assignment of the copyright. But there are important legal differences that have most significance in the event of a dispute between the author and publisher or at the margins of a license of narrower scope.

The copyright process has changed in the last couple of weeks [answered July 24, 2008]. The familiar 2-page forms (TX, PA, VA, and SR) are no longer available on the copyright office web site. Now, you are encouraged to submit your application online via eCO or to fill out a one-size-fits-all application (form CO) that captures your information in a bar code (and hence requires the latest release of adobe to use). It is very much different from the tried-and-true process we have become accustomed to and a little buggy yet.”