The number one question we receive, mostly from first time authors is “Should I copyright right my book?” We went straight to two reliable sources for the answer: Writers Digest and Poets & Writers.
According to WD:
No. Your work is copyrighted the moment it hits a tangible medium—everything from your scribbles on a piece of paper to your musings on your Internet blog are protected. Putting the word “Copyright” or the copyright symbol at the front of your text is optional. Using the Copyright symbol on your manuscript is a topic of contention, though, as agents and editors see it as the sign of an amateur—because they obviously know your work is protected. Try to avoid inserting the symbol or the word “Copyright” when querying agents and editors, but remember to use it when passing your work around—such as to untrusted peers, other writers or on public forums (i.e., the Internet).
To sum up, your work is copyrighted the moment you write it. Getting it registered in DC gives it something else — a “super copyright,” if you will.
You own the copyright to anything you write, but registration with the U.S. Copyright Office will entitle you to monetary damages in cases of infringement, which rarely occur with literary works. Usually, it is safe for you to wait until your book has been contracted for publication; your publisher should then copyright the book in your name.
If you are signing a book contract, it is crucial that you avoid granting copyright of your work to a publisher. Also, never stipulate that yours is a work “made for hire,” which would legally make the publisher the owner of your work.
Before signing a book contract, it is best to consult an agent or a lawyer with publishing experience.
Perhaps the question should be rephrased as, “When should I copyright my book?” It’s an easy and inexpensive task to copyright your book at www.copyright.gov or through the Writers Guild of America. Our advice is to officially copyright your book when you are ready to go to print.
Two things which cannot be copyrighted are titles and ideas. Let’s use Stephen King’s The Shining as an example. You can give your book the same title, but you might run into trouble if your book has any similar settings, characters, or a plot which resembles King’s story of Jack Torrance taking a job at the Overlook Hotel and all the horrors that ensue.
However, your book, The Shinnng could be about a couple who goes scuba diving while honeymooning at a tropical resort and discover a lost treasure of diamonds or they accidentally stumble upon a huge ring of jewel thieves and unwillingly become a part of their ring. Either one of these would be fine (or you could get super creative and combine the two scenarios for one great story).
Likewise, if you title your book Green Eggs and Ham and it’s a cook book, you are all set, but if it a children’s rhyming book some lawyer is going to sit up and take notice.
If you have a question for JWC, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd be glad to share our knowledge with you.