"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living."
-Anais Nin

24 June 2011

When you should copyright your work

Somebody asked this question in my writing group. Below is a revised version of my response. 

N.B. I am a lawyer and work on copyright licenses in the research organization where I work.

Short answer: Copyright attaches to your work from the moment of creation.You own the copyright to all your drafts. Whether on paper or purely electronic, from the moment you write, you own the copyright. Registration of copyright is no longer a prerequisite for owning your intellectual property.

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Unless you explicitly assigned your copyright in a binding agreement, you own all rights to your writing, including submissions to writing groups, workshops, and magazines.

Your book contract, even contracts with magazines for short stories, will require you to license, perhaps even assign, your copyright to the publisher. You do not need to register your copyright before signing such contracts as you already own the copyright to your work. However, your publisher will either register or have you register  your work formally with the copyright office, prior to distribution of your work.

When should I register my copyright?

Short answer: Copyright attaches to your work from the moment of creation. Registration is no longer necessary under copyright laws in most jurisdictions.  
(N.B. This is a different rule from patents and trademarks, where registration is essential.)

Your copyright ownership, either registered or unregistered, is effective in all countries that have signed the various copyright treaties.

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While you own what you write, you do not own any copyright to your ideas. Only expressions of ideas may be protected as intellectual property.

Registration is mainly for purposes of evidence in cases of infringement lawsuits. The date on your copyright registration will prove the originality of your work if the date is earlier than the other party's registration.

Because copyright attaches to a work from the moment of creation, you may put 'all rights reserved' or 'copyright [insert year]' on your work without need of registration (as I've done below).

As many experts will advise, do not put copyright marks on your submissions, queries or proposals as this will mark you as an 'amateur', precisely because everyone in the publishing industry knows that you automatically own copyright to your work.

It would be a good idea to put copyright marks on your blog, website, photos, etc., as most internet users (I hope) are more circumspect about copying work that are appropriately marked.

Merely publishing work without putting a copyright mark DOES NOT put your work 'in the public domain'. If you want to make your work broadly accessible and you wish to freely allow reprints or dissemination of your writing, you may wish to use one of the Creative Commons licenses.

Feel free to send questions as comments to this post. For advice on specific instances or cases of infringement, please see disclaimer below.

Would you like to learn more about copyright and licensing? Post some topics you want me to cover  as comments to this article. 

Disclaimer:  This article is posted for purposes information only. Nothing on this website should be construed as constituting legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for specific concerns on intellectual property rights.

Below are some useful links:

© C.A.T. Torres V. 2011
Except as permitted by the copyright law applicable to you, you may not reproduce or communicate any of the content on this website,including files downloadable from this website, without the written permission of the copyright owner. You may, however, provide back links to this page.

Part VB and section 183 entitlements reserved. For information about Part VB (educational use) and section 183 (government use) visit www.copyright.com.au and www.copyright.org.au.


  1. Appreciate the post! The rules around copyrights have always been confusing for me, and you make it simple to understand. It’s a relief to know that the moment you craft something it is officially yours and protected to some extent.

  2. Hi Kelly,
    Glad to have been of some help. Let me know if there are other topics that you think I could cover.
    Cheers, Cat