Intro to Copyright and Your Rights

For a dozen years I never advised registering your copyright. I’d looked into it and found copyright – the rights to our written material – is automatic and does not have to be registered. So why bother? One more bureaucratic pain in the ass, it seemed.

This is not the same as a “trademark,” by the way. And I’m not a lawyer, thank God. Just sharing what I’ve found.

Early on I had ONE rights issue where I ghost-wrote a book for two partners who then split up and months later independently tried to publish the same book at the same time. The issue was that Amazon saw the “duplicate material” (of course) and refused to publish the second person. Interesting. As the two ex-partners fought it out, Amazon’s position was sort of, “You two figure this out. Meanwhile the book is removed from Amazon. Let us know if and when this is resolved.”

I then learned I had the rights the book. Yes, me, not either of the “authors,” as I was the “writer” / creator of the material. (I then started putting on my invoices and contracts, “All rights convey to author-client with full payment of all invoices.”) I could weigh in. I did not, I wasn’t that stupid as to get in the middle of their tizzy. And that book was never published. Silly humans. They remain uninvolved with each other. (The first rule of partnerships is “Don’t.”)

Fast forward a decade and not a single rights issue until about a year ago. I was starting an audiobook on ACX (Amazon’s audiobook platform) and mid-setup was told (on screen, digitally, of course) that “another” had claimed the rights to MY book.


It gave me pause, of course. I had interviews in this book, so I wondered if that was the issue. I made a case. I wrote KDP Support with a screenshot of the copyright page of the book showing the year, several years ago, with MY NAME as the copyright holder, as originally published on Amazon. I stated that it was my understanding from working with KDP that registering a copyright was not required, and if it was, KDP should inform all authors of this, and that I was the author and the screenshot of the book published with KDP on Amazon evidenced my copyright.

Sounded good, but as I waited to see if my little argument would work, as that book contains interviews it occurred to me I should formally register the copyright. In real estate I learned a verbal contract was indeed legal, but not enforceable. So it is with your copyright.

ACX Support got back to me and released the book as I had proven my rights and could now record the audiobook. I swiped a droplet of sweat from my brow and resolved to ALWAYS register copyrights.

And TODAY, right now, I have a client with a book we just re-published in her KDP account and Amazon has now removed it from sale for a “rights” issue. Ridiculous, actually, as she is the ONLY author, no one else has ever had any suggestion of rights to it, and AMAZON (KDP) CAN SEE THIS SIMPLY BY HER KDP ACCOUNT. Nonetheless this issue is still ongoing. We’ve tried the same argument, and they (stupidly – KDP Support is hit-and-miss, some brilliant and kind, some stupid) still insist they need a “letter form the author giving you rights,” when SHE IS the author.

Who still wants AI to run the world and all in it?

We’ll resolve the issue, I’m (almost) sure, but as my dad taught me, “You can bet the rap but you can’t beat the ride.” What pain lies ahead on this issue? If we had registered the copyright this would already be solved.

So I now ALWAYS recommend it. Not all author-clients do it, but I always recommend registering your copyright:

  • In the U.S., create an account with the Copyright Office. Go here and create an account.
  • It’s usually a “single literary work” you want, and costs $65 and takes MONTHS to get.
  • Best to start the process BEFORE you publish, as soon as you have a PDF copy of your book and know page count, genre, have an ISBN and LCCN, ideally (another blog post coming).
  • Once entering data and paying, your application will be processed and they will require an upload of a copy (PDF works), and within 1 – 3 months you have your registration. And you’ll sleep better.

In the bigger picture, these experiences accumulate and give me tea leaves to read. Ingram, a few years ago, seemed to undergo internal management changes and things got worse, initially. They then re-did their platform a bit and with a few “What were you thinkings?” things got better. Amazon tests things and deals with broad issues at times and it all becomes apparent when you see from multiple individual accounts as I get to. Years ago it was reviews, months ago I think they needed cash, quickly, or to empty shelves (for whatever reason) and slashed book prices so much in cases I wrote the authors and told them, “Buy opportunity on copies of your book!”

Today, they are wildly irrational on rights, here and there. It will sort out, but that’s not a guarantee.

I bang the drum for choosing THREE “channels” initially as you start to market your book:

1. Direct sales from your website, whether you fulfill or simply link to retailers (more to this, will blog, likely),

2. Amazon, or whatever happens to be the largest marketplace for books at the time (and it can change, believe it or not),

3. And third, a niche marketplace suitable to your book.

Start with those three and after say 90 days make decisions. But I’ll address marketing outside of this post.

Meanwhile, protect your rights! You’ll be glad you did.