A Tangent-Free Checklist For Electronically Copyrighting Ebooks.
NOTE: I am an attorney, but nothing in this article should be read as specific legal advice. While the information in this article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge and belief at the time of publication, laws and regulations change frequently and individual circumstances vary. Please consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.
There are many articles and books on how to file copyright registrations. However, most of them seem to go into a lot of unnecessary depth and/or off on extended explanatory or historical tangents. Which is understandable: Copyright law is pretty complicated, and it’s also very interesting to the sort of person who writes such books and articles. I am the king of unnecessary depth and going off on tangents, and I am casting no aspersions.
But, I thought it might be nice to have a really simple, streamlined checklist for copyrighting an e-book comprising original authorship. So here it is. If you follow these steps, you should be able to easily file a copyright registration for a single work of written fiction or nonfiction written solely by you.
Do not use this list for ANYTHING other than a single work of written fiction or nonfiction written solely by you! (Scripts, by the way, are not works of written fiction or nonfiction for purposes of the copyright law – they are “dramatic works.” If you’re registering a script, this list is not appropriate.) Also, if the work has previously been published in print or in some other work, you should not use this list.
All caveats herein notwithstanding, the Copyright Office’s website is reasonably easy to use, and a person of reasonable intelligence can most likely figure out how to register most kinds of works with the instructions on the site and possibly a little Googling. I am not trying to dissuade such persons. I am only saying that the second you diverge from the parameters I set forth, you can no longer just follow the steps below as I lay them out.
Okay, here we go!
1) Sign up for an Electronic Copyright Office (or “eCO”) account here:
Click on “Log in to eCO.” It’s okay if you don’t have an account. (You will get an option to create a new one on the next page. The “New Account” link is at the bottom of the login box.) Follow the instructions to create and/or log in to your eCO account. Note when creating your password it must be at least 8 characters long and contain 1 number, 1 letter, and 1 special character. If you use an unacceptable password, it will make you start again.
2) Once you are logged in, look on the left side of the screen. You will see a text menu. One selection is “Register a New Claim.” Click that.
3) On the next screen, read all the questions. If the answers are “YES,” check “YES” in all the boxes. If the answer to any question is not “YES,” you should not be using this list. Remember, no depth, no tangents! (Exception: Your ebook may have a cover illustration you didn’t make in whole or in part. We’ll get to that. At this point do not take it into consideration when answering the questions. If it has any other important illustrations, you should not be using this list.) After you’ve checked “YES” on all three questions, click “Start Registration.”
4) Read the warning dialog. If you’re sure that you meet the criteria it sets forth, and you should be by this point, click “Okay.” If not, click “Cancel” and go find one of those tangent-filled articles, or better yet, consult an attorney.
5) On the next screen, select “Literary Work.” Read the description. If it sounds good click the checkbox below the description and then click “Continue” at the top of the page. If it doesn’t sound good, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Don’t worry too much about the “non-dramatic” restriction: just remember, no scripts.
6) Fill in the title, exactly as it appears on the cover or at the beginning of the story. Select “No” for the “Larger Work” question. If it DOES appear in a larger work (clicking “larger work” will give you a definition) you should not be using this checklist! For instance, if it is a single short story in a book of short stories, you should not be using this checklist unless you are filing JUST for this story, and it has been or will be published separately. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
7) If the work has been published, select “Yes.” If it hasn’t, select “No.” Whether or not something has been published is one of those depth and tangent issues. So for purposes of this list, if you’ve put it up for sale on Amazon or any other e-publishing site, pick “Yes.” If you haven’t put it up for sale, pick “No.” Note that putting it up with a price of zero still counts. IF YOU ARE NOT SURE ABOUT THIS QUESTION STOP USING THIS LIST AND CONSULT AN ATTORNEY.
8) Fill in the answers to the questions which appear after you select “Yes” or “No” for the publishing question. Note that the International Standard Number questions are optional. If your book doesn’t have an ISBN, leave them blank. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
9) Fill in the “Contributor” section. You may use a pseudonym, but you must fill in the Citizenship/Domicile question truthfully. You may also leave the Contributor section blank (other than Citizenship/Domicile) and check “Anonymous” if you do not wish to list any contributors at all. Note that even use of a pseudonym or selecting “Anonymous” may not guarantee anonymity. If you do not wish your real name to appear in the Copyright Office’s records, you should consult an attorney. At this point select “text” and nothing else. If your book contains photographs or artwork (other than a cover photo) you should not be using this list. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
10) Fill in the “Claimant” information. This is publicly visible information. If anonymity is required, consult an attorney. You can click “Add Address” at the top and it will fill in the information you used when you created your eCO account. Otherwise fill in the address you want the registration certificate sent to. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
11) Read the part about “Limitation of Claim.” If what you’re registering was already included in some other work or in any other way sounds like any of this might apply, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Otherwise, click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
12) Fill in the “Rights and Permissions” information if you desire. You can click “Add Me” at the top of the screen to fill in the information you gave when you created your account. Note that this is publicly visible information. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
13) Fill in the “Correspondent” information. This is who the Copyright Office will contact in case there are any questions about or problems with the registration and is required. You can click “Add Me” at the top of the screen to fill in the information you gave when you created your account. This information is not publicly visible on the Copyright Office website, but can be viewed by the public. If anonymity is required, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
14) Fill in the “Mail Certificate” information. This is where they will send the Copyright Registration Certificate and is required. You can click “Add Me” at the top of the screen to fill in the information you gave when you created your account. This information is not publicly visible on the Copyright Office website, but can be viewed by the public. Again, if anonymity is required, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
15) Read the “Special Handling” screen description. If any of this sounds applicable, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Otherwise click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
16) Read the “Certification” screen carefully. If it seems accurate, check the box and fill in your name. (The tracking number is optional.) If it doesn’t, stop using this list and consult an attorney. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen.
17) Review the summary of your registration carefully. If there are any issues, go back and fix them, or stop using this list and consult an attorney. Otherwise, click “Add to Cart” at the top of the screen.
18) On the “Pay” screen, again review the information carefully. If it seems to be in order, click “Checkout” at the top of the screen. Otherwise, go back and fix it, or stop using this list and consult an attorney.
19) Now it’s time to pay. Review the cart information carefully. If it seems to be in order, click “Pay – Credit Card / ACH” at the top of the screen. Otherwise, go back and fix whatever is wrong. As this implies, you can pay with a credit card or with ACH. ACH is another way of saying you can pay directly from a standard checking account. Even if you want to pay with a bank account, do NOT pick “Pay – Deposit Account.” If you’re using this list, that is not the option you want, period. (And if you were wondering, no, you cannot pay with PayPal, but you can use a PayPal debit card.)
20) It will take you to the pay.gov payment site. You’ll need to click “OK” to continue. This is normal.
21) You will get a fairly standard online payment form. Pick the method of payment you want, fill in the information appropriately, and proceed. Note that the payor information is not publicly linked to the eCO records, but if anonymity is required, stop using this list and consult an attorney. You will get a confirmation screen and a chance to have an email receipt sent. Proceed.
22) You will be returned to the eCO website after you pay. Click “Continue” at the top of the screen to complete the last part, which is uploading your book (also known as “depositing” the work.)
23) Now you will upload your file. READ THIS ENTIRE LIST ENTRY BEFORE PROCEEDING. If you are not familiar with uploading files (this is about as complicated as uploading your book to Amazon, for comparison) you can click the “Tutorial” link on the submission page, or read it here:
Here’s the trick: Prepare a text file of your book. Remove ALL ILLUSTRATIONS, including the cover illustration if any. Use that as your deposit upload file. If illustrations are a significant part of your book, you shouldn’t be using this list. If your illustrations are important, you can either change the registration appropriately or copyright them separately, but that’s outside the scope of this list. Consult an attorney.
Click on “Select Files to Upload” in the “Step 2: Select and Upload Files” column. Use the file dialog that appears to find your deposit upload file (that has NO PICTURES IN IT.) Select it. If you pick the wrong one, use “Remove” to clear it and try again. Once you have the right deposit upload file, click “Start Upload.”
Since you are using this list to register a single work, you should only have one file, so once you have uploaded it, click “Click here to complete your submission after uploading all files.” You should get a note that says “Claim submission completed: No further action required.” If you don’t, you’ll need to try to fix whatever went wrong or contact the Copyright Office for help. Here’s a link to their tech support service, which I have found to be pretty good, if hard to get through to at times.
Note One: You CAN NOT submit .epub, .mobi, or any other ebook file format. You can ONLY submit the types of files listed here: http://copyright.gov/eco/help-file-types.html . You can submit Word files, PDF, or just plain text. Whatever you’ve got, there is a way to make it work. But do NOT submit ebook files.
Note Two: If you can’t upload your file, follow the instructions to mail a paper copy. (But don’t do both.) Go down to part 2 of the submission page, and click “Create Shipping Slip.” Then follow the instructions for submitting a paper copy.
And there you have it… filing an electronic copyright registration for a single work of fiction or nonfiction written solely by you in only 23 steps! Once you’re done, you can log on to your eCO account at any time and check the status of your registration. All your pending and issued registrations can be viewed from your eCO Home screen.
If you have questions, please feel free to leave comments or email me, and I’ll do the best I can to answer them. Thanks for reading!