Copyright Vs. ISBN

Every book sold on retail shelves carries a copyright and an ISBN.
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Copyright and an International Standard Book Number, ISBN, are integral to books seen on bookstore shelves and in any retail outlet. Copyright is a legal protection of original creative work. An ISBN is an internationally recognized identifier of a work to facilitate marketing and cataloging of books and “book-like” products by distributors, libraries and booksellers.

What They Are

An ISBN is a 13-digit number to uniquely identify books, e-books, audio books and other book-like products for the retail market. The company R. R. Bowker is the official ISBN agency for the United States with the exclusive responsibility for assignment of the numbers to publishers operating within the U.S. The number identifies a specific book, the purchaser of the number as the publisher of that book and other information for its commercial marketing.

A copyright is automatically in effect when an author writes a book, and gives the author control of his work. The author can gain certain legal advantages in infringement suits by registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Costs and Fees

Fees for registering a copyright of authorship as of May 2010 begins at $35 for an electronic filing. Bowker sells ISBNs in blocks of 10, 100 or 1,000. As of 2010, the block of 10 costs $275. Bowker works with about a dozen companies it identifies on its website who can submit applications for ISBN numbers on behalf of authors and self-publishers who are planning to produce and market their work.

Protecting Authorship Rights

A copyright gives the author the sole right to grant permission to others to use or publish his work. An author can sell some of those rights, such as first publication rights or international rights, through a publishing contract. An author must therefore carefully consider the implication of what rights he sells and what rights he retains.

Protecting Publisher Identity

A self-published author must use care when purchasing the ISBN number from companies other than Bowker if she wishes to control sales and distribution as a publisher. Purchasing a number from a company that doesn’t have an agreement with Bowker will mean the number will not identify the self-published author as the publisher of the work.


While legally not required, a prominent display of a copyright notice prevents anyone accused of copyright infringement from using an “innocent infringement” defense by claiming she was not aware the work was protected by copyright. The copyright notice in the form of “Copyright 2010 John Doe” is normally found on the page immediately following a book's title page.

An ISBN is also not legally required, but bookstores, online booksellers and catalogs only stock books in any form if they carry an ISBN number. Hard copies need a barcode carrying the ISBN. The ISBN and barcode are placed on the back cover, with the ISBN placed immediately above the bar code.

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