Copyright protection begins the moment a literary work is created in a tangible form, whether handwritten or typed. The 1976 Copyright Act does not require formal registration for a book to be protected from infringement, and for works published after Mar. 1, 1989, affixing a notice of copyright on all copies to maintain copyright protection is no longer necessary. It is advisable, however, to formally register literary works, and later substantive revisions of those works, to maximum the benefits of copyright protection.
Although formal registration is not required for a work to enjoy copyright protection from infringement, there are benefits to doing so. Registration establishes a public record that enables an author to file a suit for infringement in federal court. Official registration also entitles the author to damages beyond actual damages, if infringement is proven. Additional damages include statutory damages, attorney’s fees and costs. If an author makes significant revisions to his original book, such that a "derivative work" is created, registration of a second copyright for the derivative work provides the same benefits of copyright protection to the new portions of the work.
Benefits also are achieved from including a notice of copyright on published works, although not legally required for copyright protection. Affixing notice to all copies of a book informs the public it is protected by copyright. It also identifies the copyright owner and year of first publication. If the work is copied, proper notice will prevent the infringer from persuasively claiming his use of the work was innocent because he was unaware the work was protected by copyright. Registration and notice fix the date of copyright by the author. Significant revisions to the original book should include notice of both the original copyright and copyright of the revision.
An author may make minor changes to his original book without impacting the work’s copyright protection. Examples of minor changes include correcting typographical errors or changing a chapter title. Ideas, names, titles and short phrases are not creative enough by themselves to be copyrightable, so copyright protection does not extend to titles or short phrases, which do not affect the copyright protection of the original work as a whole. Instead, minor changes become a part of the original work and do not qualify for a second copyright.
If an author makes significant revisions to a previous book, copyright law considers that revision a derivative work. Copyright holders have the exclusive right to create derivative works based on their original creative works. For example, an author may change the ending of a novel or add new chapters to update a book about political affairs. In such cases, a second copyright is necessary to cover the newly added material. The second copyright does not enlarge the scope of the original, but only protects the new material.
Jennifer Mueller has a J.D. from the University of Indiana, Maurer School of Law. She has been sharing her legal knowledge on the internet since 2009. Mueller has been published in the Indiana Law Journal, and her writing appears on legal websites such as LegalZoom.