Should I copyright my manuscript?

You’ve just put the finishing touches on your book and are about to send it off to an editor, a literary agent, or maybe even a publishing house. Seemingly countless hours of thought and sweat went into your novel or nonfiction book, and it’s pretty good stuff, if you do say so yourself. But then a dreadful thought comes over you: “What if some slimeball tries to steal my work and pass it off as his own?”

Maybe it’ll be an editor reading it, maybe a literary agent who sees a lot of money potential in the storyline, maybe an unscrupulous publisher or Hollywood film producer who envisions really big bucks and doesn’t mind cutting you out. After a minute you tell yourself, “I’m probably just being paranoid, but…what if?”

You are right about one thing: A copyright is invaluable. It provides you and your offspring with intellectual property rights.

But you need not purchase a copyright. Under United States copyright law, anything you write is automatically copyrighted to you the moment you commit ink to paper or keystroke to computer screen. That copyright is good for 70 after you die. So if you’re 30 years old and die at 90, your copyright is good for a total of 130 years, or sometime into the 2140s. So it pays to live a long life – your copyright will last longer!

Because of this, you need not place the © symbol on your unpublished manuscripts either. In fact, most literary agents, publishers and editors view it as an indication that you’re an amateur. That can work to your detriment.

Once you publish the work, however, a © symbol should appear on the book’s title page. Simply use: © Your Name, Year (ex: © Rob Bignell, 2016).

In addition, you don’t need to register your copyright, though doing so can help make proving your claim easier in court should someone actually plagiarize your book. American citizens can register their book at the U.S. Copyright Office (Library of Congress).

Still, there is a very remote chance that someone might copy your work and claim it as their own. What then? Well, copyright symbol or not, you’ll have to prove it in court.

Finally, the rules listed here only apply in the United States. Even if you’re an American citizen, if you publish your book in another country (such as the United Kingdom or Australia), different copyright laws pertain.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.